Chicago indoor dining reopens as city, suburban Cook Co. move to Tier 1

ByCate Cauguiran and Jesse Kirsch WLS logo
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Chicago indoor dining reopens Saturday as city, suburban Cook Co. move to Tier 1
Chicago restaurants and bars are will be able to reopen for limited indoor dining starting Saturday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- From Chicago to Suburban Cook County, many are celebrating the milestone as "a step towards normal" in what has been very abnormal times.

Chicago and Cook County were moved Tier 1 mitigations on Saturday, state health officials announced, giving restaurants and bars the all-clear to resume some indoor dining.

WATCH: Gov. Pritzker gives latest on vaccines, restrictions, new variant on Jan. 22, 2021

Gov. Pritzker gives latest on vaccines, restrictions, new variant on Jan. 22, 2021

"We have long pushed for the careful resumption of limited indoor dining, and I am thrilled that we have made enough progress in the fight against COVID-19 to reopen our businesses and bring workers back," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement Saturday. "As we enter this next phase, I again call on all businesses and residents to make sure we continue moving forward by following the guidelines for safe indoor dining and committing to the safety precautions that helped us flatten the curve a second time."

Some suburban restaurant owners were ready to open their doors when restrictions were lifted Saturday morning.

Rick Bayless, Chicago chef and restauranteur said the reopening will breathe much-needed life to a deflated industry.

"I will tell you there were so many people on our staff here that were actually in tears when our first customers came back in," Bayless said, who is the owner and chef at Frontera Grill.

His staff has been tracking regional COVID-19 positivity rates in anticipation of getting customers back indoors.

"When the rumors started swirling around our staff that it was going to be able to happen, there was a spike in everybody's eyes to be able to know that we're going to be able to do what we do best once again and that's an exciting thing for us in the hospitality profession," said Casey Cora, Frontera Grill spokesperson.

"We have been busy today. Thank God! It's a blessing to be back open," said Peytyn Willborn, owner of Truth Italian Restaurant in the city's Bronzeville neighborhood.

Back in suburban Cook County, business owners rejoiced as they welcomed customers back indoors after the city and suburban Cook County were officially given the go-ahead to move into Tier 1.

"As soon as I saw that email, it was a breath of fresh air," said Chris Manolis, Owner of Blueberry Hill Breakfast Cafe.

However, Peytyn Willborn is still cautiously optimistic, knowing with this pandemic anything can change.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed. We don't want to get too excited because she might shut us back down in a month or two weeks and we're back to where we started," said Willborn, the owner of Truth Italian Restaurant in the city's South Side.

Chicago and suburban Cook County are expected to move into Tier 1 mitigations Saturday, allowing limited indoor dining to reopen.

Both Chicago and Cook County restaurants and bars are now able to reopen for limited indoor dining as the COVID-19 test positivity rates in Regions 10 and 11 continue trending down.

"So we will be able to know tomorrow if they in fact meet their criteria and it's looking like they will get there. So that announcement will be made tomorrow," Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

Under the Tier 1 restrictions, bars and restaurants can open for indoor dining at 25% capacity or 25 people max per room. Food must be available at all times, but can be provided by outside vendors for those without a food license. Tables must be six feet apart, face coverings required except when actively eating or drinking and establishments must close by 11 p.m.

"I think that we should be opening everything back up as soon as it's possible to do so safely and so I'm happy that we're on that path," said Lakeview resident Elan Karoll.

The city will be responding to complaints of egregious violations, but anticipates very good compliance from bars and restaurants.

"And I think this is why you see the progress in the numbers continuing to go down, because for the most part, people are really trying to do their best to keep, not only their customers, but their families and their employees safe," Chicago Dept. of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said.

Lori Lightfoot issued a statement Friday that said: "I am thrilled that Chicago has made sufficient progress in the ongoing fight against the deadly COVID-19 virus to allow indoor service at bars and restaurants in the very near future. This pandemic has been devastating for businesses and their workers, especially for bars and restaurants, and I know that this move will provide much-needed relief at a critical time. Our businesses have stepped up repeatedly to save lives throughout this crisis and I am thrilled that we will soon be ready to take this step to reopen more businesses and get employees back to work. As we prepare for easing of restrictions, I call on all of our businesses and residents to once more commit to what works to fight the spread of COVID-19. Only by wearing masks, maintaining social distance, avoiding large gatherings, following the business regulations and getting the vaccine when it is available, will we be able to continue moving forward in our reopening plan."

SEE ALSO | Chicago COVID-19: City moves into Phase 1B next week, Arwady says

Tier 1 mitigation measures currently allow the following:

Restaurants and Bars

Can reopen indoors at lesser of 25% or 25 people per space

Food must be available at all times in order to offer indoor service. This means that bars, taverns or breweries without a food license can reopen indoors as long as they partner with a food establishment so that food is available to patrons at all times (e.g., making menus available and allowing delivery, allowing patrons to order from third-party delivery services).

Table size limited to no more than four people per indoor table and six people per outdoor table

Face coverings must be worn at all times, except when patrons are seated and actively eating or drinking.

Patrons must be seated whenever they are eating or drinking

Tables must be six feet apart

Indoor service limited to no more than two hours

All bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m.

Meetings, Social Events and Gatherings

Events will be limited to lesser 25 guests or 25% of overall room capacity both indoors and outdoors

Indoor events will be able to serve food or drinks, but indoor service guidelines must be followed:

o Face coverings must be worn at all times, except when patrons are seated and actively eating or drinking

o Four people per indoor table

o Patrons must be seated whenever they are eating or drinking

o Tables must be six feet apart

o Indoor events must end at 11 p.m.

Household gatherings limited to no more than ten people

Other Industries

Most other industries limited to 40% capacity with 50 people max within a room or space

Indoor fitness classes can expand to the lesser of 15 people or 40% capacity

Face coverings worn at all times, with the exception of limited instances such as for personal services that require their removal

"We're just adding classes exponentially to accommodate the demand, but it's an exciting time. It brings a tremendous amount of energy back into the locations," said Gale Landers, founder and CEO of Fitness Formula Clubs.

WATCH: Indoor dining returns in Will, Kankakee counties

Will and Kankakee counties are advancing to Tier 1, meaning restaurants in the south suburbs can now reopen for limited indoor dining.

State health officials announced that Illinois Region 7 - Kankakee and Will counties - had moved into Tier 1 mitigation Thursday, allowing indoor restaurant and bar dining service for up to 25 people or 25% capacity per room, whichever is fewer people.

Some restaurants, including George's in Lockport, have been serving customers inside even while it was officially banned by the state. But the team there is still excited by the news and hope it will make more customers feel safe enough to drop in for a bite. Manager Lauren Straub said she was elated to learn that limited indoor dining can resume in Will and Kankakee counties.

George's in Lockport reopened for indoor dining as Will County moved to Tier 1 mitigations Thursday.
Jesse Kirsch

"People are gonna feel comfortable and, you know, want to come in and they feel safe enough to come in and dine with us," Straub said.

In nearby Romeoville, Gio's breakfast was still mostly empty after the indoor dining reboot announcement. But manager Giselle Evangelista is thinking her dining room will be an attractive option for people hoping to keep their social distance.

"It's really really big," Evangelista said. "I feel like people are gonna see that on our Facebook page."

And with more in-person dining, she's hoping her staff will see more tips - which haven't been as plentiful with take-out orders.

"Since our servers rely on tips, that will help us out a lot more because that's basically what we live off," she said.

WATCH: Why some restaurants won't reopen even if restrictions loosen

Even when restrictions are lifted in Chicago, some restaurants say they still won't be reopening for now.

Even when restrictions are lifted in the city, some restaurants still won't be reopening for now.

"25% (capacity) makes us lose money, 50% (capacity) makes us lose money," said Jodi Fyfe, owner of Eden in the West Loop.

But for Chicago restaurants that want to reopen indoor dining, city officials say that may be possible as soon as this weekend if the current trends hold.