CHICAGO (CBS) — Eased pandemic restrictions are on the way for local bars and restaurants.
Starting Thursday, the businesses will be allowed higher capacities and later last calls.
As CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported Monday night, some bar and restaurant owners say these new rules could make or break their business.
With no kitchen and no outdoor space, the Arrogant Frog Bar, 1365 W. Fullerton Ave., has not served a customer since July – scraping by with carry out liquor for months.
The owner said these new rules mean everything.
Rian Salyers doesn’t just miss the business. He misses the neighborhood, the regulars, the stories shared over a beer or shot of bourbon.
“It’s been amazing to watch people who don’t know each other move into the neighborhood, meet here, and build lasting relationships with each other,” Salyers said.
Those are little things that make Chicago’s taverns special.
“It’s a city of neighborhood taverns,” he said.
And it’s a special quality we risk losing with bars and restaurants closing across the city. They’re barely hanging on.
But Salyers said the new city rules, easing up on the COVID-19 related restrictions, could make all the difference.
“It’s a big step to some help,” he said.
Now, indoor capacity at restaurants will be increased from 25% to 40%, with a maximum of 50 people per room and six people per table.
“We will continue to track,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “If things are stable, we may be able to move to 50% capacity.”
Bars that serve alcohol but not food will be limited to 25% capacity indoors or a maximum of 50 people, whichever is lower. Customers can stay no longer than two hours and cannot order at the bar, only at tables. Bars that don’t serve food themselves also must partner with a restaurant or other establishment to make food available to customers at all times through delivery services.
Salyers said the Arrogant Frog can work with the new rules.
“Twenty-five percent will do something,” he said.
With these stipulations, customers can’t order a drink at a bar. They have to be seated to order and drink
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also said face coverings will need to be worn at all times except while eating or drinking.
“I know that this requirement is a pain in the butt. Let’s just be blunt about it, but it’s absolutely necessary to protect you and protect other diners, and most importantly protect the workers who are coming to your table,” Lightfoot said.
But Salyers said the new 1 a.m. last call will make the real difference as he preps to welcome the neighborhood back.
“Really going to help tremendously,” he said.
In addition to loosening restrictions for bars and restaurants, capacity for health and fitness centers, personal services, and non-essential retail businesses also will increase from 25% to 40%. Maximum group sizes for health and fitness classes and after-school programs will increase from 10 to 15.
The mayor said the city also will allow businesses to resume personal services such as shaves, facials, and other grooming that had been prohibited for months because they required customers to remove their masks. Lightfoot said those services should be limited to 15 minutes or less, and the employee providing the service must wear a mask at all times.
All businesses also must offer hand sanitizer to customers and employees as they enter the establishment.
Lightfoot also announced a city partnership with tech company Tock to provide a free six-month subscription to bars and restaurants without a reservation system to allow them to manage reservations, takeout, delivery and events through a unified system. The mayor said the system can be used to support contact tracing efforts. Restaurants and bars should keep customers’ email addresses and/or phone numbers to allow for contact tracing if needed.
The city first began allowing restaurants to serve customers indoors in June but tightened restrictions in July after Chicago’s COVID-19 cases started to rise, including requiring bars that don’t serve food to shut down indoor service.