Restaurants soak up extended patio season, unseasonably warm weather while enduring COVID-19 restrictions

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Local restaurants are taking advantage of the weekend warmth, serving up as many people as they can outside. But, the warmth won't last long and that could spell more trouble for restaurants.

The good weather is a comfort to Chicago restaurant owners who are now limited to outdoor dining only after Governor JB Pritzker reinstated tighter COVID-19 restrictions as cases once again surge in the state.

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"It broke our hearts to be shut down on October 28 but then Mother Nature said, 'let's work with the Midwest,'" said Jeff Lawler, owner of Geja's Café in Lincoln Park.

The unusually warm weather translated to more customers dining outdoors throughout the city.

Now limited to just three tables set up on his small patio, Lawler said the weather was a welcome sight given the uncertainty ahead.

"I saw all types of restaurants busy, windows open, people happy; no coats, t-shirts and shorts. Everybody's chillin'. It's a blessing in such a dark time," he said.

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For one couple, supporting local businesses during this pandemic is just as important to them as the business owners.

"We are trying to go out even more than normal and just kind of support local businesses and restaurants as much as we can," said restaurant patron Nicole Kosirog.

"The suffering of the small businesses as this point is going to be detrimental to their operations, so anything we can do to help, you know, keep them open I think is very important," her husband Steven added.

Once temperatures start to drop though, creativity will be a key factor in restaurants' future this winter.

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Lawler said his restaurant, known for its fondue, just started offering customers their unique dining experience in an all-in-one kit.

"We will supply the pots, the forks, the oil, the sternos - everything you need to enjoy the full experience of Geja's fondue," Lawler said.

Lawler said for his industry, it's now fight or flight, with every restaurant owner making a plea for patrons.

"There are 5,000 restaurants in this city, pick a few of your favorites and support them," he urged.

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