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Suburban restaurants open for outdoor dining Friday. Here’s what to know.

Thursday, May 28, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Ariel Cheung & Grace Wong

Chris Mason, chef and owner of Allegory in Naperville, spent Wednesday afternoon building picnic tables in preparation for the expected start of outdoor dining in most of Illinois Friday.

He plans on using a few parking spaces in front of the restaurant, as well as another handful of spaces from his neighbor during off-hours, and convert them to dining space.

“I’m kind of winging it right now,” he said as he drove to Menards to pick up lumber for picnic tables. “We’ve been much slower in sales, but it doesn’t mean I have any fewer things to do on a given day. We went to a carryout and delivery model, and that was like opening a different restaurant on the fly.”

Switching back to a service model has been incredibly taxing, and Mason said his exhaustion forced him to take a day off. While he puts together the picnic tables, he’s going to try to “figure out how all the pieces fit together.”

Allegory chef/owner Chris Mason cuts wood behind his Naperville restaurant on May 27, 2020, as he builds picnic tables to accommodate customers once outdoor dining resumes Friday.
Allegory chef/owner Chris Mason cuts wood behind his Naperville restaurant on May 27, 2020, as he builds picnic tables to accommodate customers once outdoor dining resumes Friday.(Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

He hosted a staff training session Thursday to ensure everyone is up to date on best practices surrounding sanitation and safety protocols. Guests will be encouraged to look at the menu on their phones, and all service staff will be masked.

“Everyone is in a very strained emotional and mental state, but I want to keep myself, my staff and my other customers who are brave enough to come out and come to our restaurant ... I want to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Allegory will join restaurants across Illinois — except for in Chicago — in opening for outdoor dining Friday. Here’s what you need to know about what to expect, how to dine safely and which restaurants will be open.

When are restaurants opening for outdoor dining?

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said last week that Illinois restaurants and bars could open with limited outdoor seating as early as Friday, the likely beginning of phrase three of his Restore Illinois reopening plan.

Chicago restaurants, however, are not allowed to open yet. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she expects the city will move forward to phase three in early June, and released guidelines on how restaurants can reopen at that point.

What places will be open and when?

Restaurants, bars and others licensed to serve food and drinks can open Friday for outdoor dining, provided the state’s number of COVID-19 cases continues on its current downward trajectory.

Some are readying to open as soon as possible, while others like Libertyville’s Firkin and Ristorante Bottaio have said they plan to open in mid-June. Here’s a running list of which restaurants are opening their doors.

What counts as outdoor dining?

Rooftops and venues with retractable roofs can open, as can outdoor spaces like patios on the site of restaurants, grocery stores, fitness centers, hotels, golf clubs and other social venues with a food license.

Restaurant interiors with large accordion doors, window walls or other removable parts can open those spaces, as long as dining tables are placed within 8 feet of the opening.

Authorized outdoor dining and drinking areas are allowed, as long as items are prepared by licensed food or liquor providers.

How many people are allowed? Are there capacity limits?

Diners will be limited to parties of six or fewer.

Restaurants must place tables 6 feet apart, ideally with plexiglass between them, which will limit capacity and enable social distancing between groups.

Will I need a reservation?

The state is not requiring reservations, but they are encouraged when possible. Some restaurants, like Oak Brook’s Mon Ami Gabi, will require reservations, as it plans to use only half its patio to seat customers.

Will it be safe to stand and wait for a table?

Waiting areas and other spots where people congregate will be closed.

The state advises residents to wait off-premise when possible, either in vehicles or while standing 6 feet apart outside and wearing face coverings. Diners should be seated immediately when walking into the business.

What precautions are in place at restaurants?

The state has set a number of guidelines for outdoor dining, but local governments or the restaurants themselves could set more restrictive rules.

At George Trois Group in Winnetka, 20 seats will be available for up to six people per table on the patio of Aboyer. Guests will need to wear masks when going to the restroom, and only four people will be allowed into the restaurant at a time for that.

To avoid contamination, restaurants won’t use self-service stations, set out items like salt and pepper shakers or use shared condiments or reusable menus that aren’t sanitized with each use.

They are also supposed to clean common areas and high-touch surfaces every half hour and disinfect tables and chairs between uses. Employees will wear face coverings, preferably cloth masks, when within 6 feet of other people.

Workers are to wash their hands every 30 minutes, plus when they arrive at work, switch tasks, prepare food, handle soiled dishes or their phones, use the restroom, eat, drink, smoke, cough, sneeze, use a tissue or touch their face.

Restaurants are encouraged to ask customers whether they have COVID-19 symptoms or ask to take their temperature with an infrared camera or touchless thermometer.

Additional steps the state is encouraging include using service trays to minimize hand contact, using signs to promote social distancing, installing plexiglass barriers between close contact spots, like a host stand, and creating one-way traffic pathways.

Live music will be allowed, but performers should wear face coverings if possible.

What precautions should diners take?

Wear a face covering, except for when you’re eating or drinking at the table.

Pack your own leftovers to minimize contamination. Try to avoid touching areas like bathroom door handles, and use hand sanitizer or wash your hands frequently.

What if there is bad weather?

Restaurants should not seat customers if bad weather is in the forecast, and if it strikes while people are seated, restaurants will pack food to go and encourage diners to leave.

Do different suburbs have different guidelines for restaurants?

With just over a week to prepare after Pritzker’s May 20 announcement, municipal governments have scrambled to work out the details of reopening restaurants.

Some North Shore suburbs are making plans to increase outdoor dining options, by using parking spaces or sidewalks for more tables, or closing streets to vehicles to create more dedicated space for walking. Park Ridge is considering a similar proposal.

In Glenview, restaurants looking to open will have to propose plans to village officials and get help with table placement and other safety protocols.

When will restaurants resume indoor service?

With phase four of the governor’s reopening program not expected until late June, that’s currently the earliest date Illinois restaurants could resume indoor dining.

To move forward to phase four, regions of the state must have testing available regardless of symptoms, contact tracing strengthened, and a stable level of new cases and hospital admissions.

Karen Ann Cullotta, Kaitlin Edquist and Adam Lukach contributed to this report.

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