The Illinois Restaurant Affiliation is pushing for looser COVID limits for eating places and bars
Smaller institutions have been crippled by state and city mandates between the seat parties, said Sam Toia, the association’s president and CEO. Despite the reduced distance, restaurant visitors would still have to comply with mask requirements, he said.
A beneficiary of the rule change would be Gene & Georgetti in River North. The steakhouse seats about 74 people indoors with 6-foot social distancing. Third-generation owner Michelle Durpetti estimates the 3-foot restaurant could attract 25 percent more diners inside. In normal times the restaurant has 220 seats.
“Every seat counts and every dollar goes to recovery,” she said.
The average check at the 80-year-old steakhouse is $ 76 per table, Durpetti said. With an additional 20 seats, the restaurant could serve at least 20 to 40 additional guests per night.
Still, some restaurant operators are comfortable with the current 6-foot spacing. Dan McGowan, chief operating officer of Cornerstone Restaurant Group, said he probably wouldn’t go under three feet between parties if the state allowed.
Several of the group’s restaurants, including Michael Jordan’s restaurant in Oak Brook, are large enough to accommodate the 6-foot rule. And he’s not sure if the public is ready to dine this close to strangers.
“I understand that people are struggling and need the seats,” he said. “(But) I don’t know if the average diner would want to sit within 3 feet of anyone.”
At the start of the pandemic, restaurant operators wondered if they could even fill seats if capacity limits increase and overcome diners’ reluctance to return to indoor dining. Durpetti says those days are mostly over. She sees more pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood and people are more comfortable seeing the rules being followed. Gene & Georgetti recently rolled back valet parking six days a week, which indicates to Durpetti that customers are driving from out of town.
But there is still a long way to go to recover from the lost revenue and recover from the three months that restaurants and bars were closed to back office work. Durpetti said she was more hopeful now, but the pandemic taught her that every dollar she spends is vital.
“Even at 100 percent (capacity) there is only so much you can do,” she said. “So control what you can. Food waste, food costs, expenses, payroll, all of these things are things that we are sorting out really well now. “
Toia’s push comes less than a week after Illinois officials said schools can conduct face-to-face learning 3 feet apart as long as students are masked. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention still recommends 6 feet in schools, but a recent study published in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that 3 feet might be effective in masked schools.
“The city continues to evaluate COVID-19 regulations based on the latest metrics, but remains constrained by Illinois state restrictions and CDC guidelines,” said city spokesman Isaac Reichman. State officials did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s been almost two weeks since Chicago officials announced restaurants could increase capacity to 50 percent. The city’s strategy for easing restrictions changed last month, requiring positivity rates, daily case numbers, ICU availability, and emergency room visits to stay at certain levels for two weeks. Check out the latest COVID numbers for the city and state in the charts below.
Toia said the city had “indicated” that it would wait longer this time before easing restrictions to ensure the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations last weekend don’t lead to a surge in COVID cases.
Currently, bars and restaurants can stay open until 1am, and only six people are allowed per table. Toia is also pushing for this table limit to be increased to 10.