Chicago bars and restaurants express concern about indoor dining ban

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Bars and restaurants across Chicago will soon be under additional coronavirus restrictions barring them from serving customers indoors and forcing them to close at 11 p.m., leaving many to face an uncertain future.

According to the Illinois Restaurant Association, 5,000 restaurants have already gone out of business since the pandemic and subsequent mandates began. Like many others, international restauranteur Rick Bayless said Wednesday he’s being forced to pivot once again.

“We were just getting to a toe hold of a little normalcy,” Bayless said. “This has thrown us way back and we’re not even sure where it’s going to take us or how long it’s gonna be.”

State health officials announced new restrictions would be coming to Chicago starting Friday following three straight weeks of rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city.

A similar order took effect Wednesday in the suburbs of Cook County, but there are already seeds of civil disobedience on the boil. The mayor of Orland Park said he will not enforce the new rules, so long as diners wear a mask while they’re inside.

Back in the city, Fulton Market Association Executive Director Roger Romanelli said he feels like the service industry is being unfairly targeted, arguing they’re safer than big box stores.

Romanelli’s group filed a Freedom of Information Act with the City of Chicago, calling for any data they have linking bars and restaurants to the spread of COVID-19.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she met with Governor JB Pritzker Wednesday to discuss differences of opinion over the new rules.

Lightfoot seemed to push back against the tightened restrictions during an interview on PBS NewsHour Tuesday, saying 2/3 of new COVID-19 infections in the city were between people who knew each other and restrictions needed to be more “surgical.” 

“So we’re going to continue our engagement with the governor and his team but it’s not looking good,” Lightfoot said during the interview. 

After speaking with Pritzker Wednesday morning, Lightfoot said the city would not file legal action to challenge the restrictions. 

“The state is our partner and we’ll keep working with them,” Lightfoot said. 

Pritzker also downplayed the disagreement Wednesday, saying he and Lightfoot have a “good relationship.” 

Bayless said he fears outdoor dining during Chicago winters will be a hill many business owners will die on in this unpredictable COVID battle.

“I think I speak for restauranteurs and chefs all over our city: this has been incredibly brutal,” Bayless said. “Not only is it brutal in the fact that we’re just trying to make a living and help our staff make a living, but everything has been so unpredictable.”

While touting the availability of more than $200 million in state grants for small businesses Wednesday, Pritzker stood by COVID-19 restrictions which are now in nearly every region of the state.

“I’ve set the metrics. I’ve put them in place. They’re going to remain in place,” Pritzker said.

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