Are suburban diners interested in eating outside this winter, too?
When Illinois reached the long-awaited Phase 5 of its COVID-19 reopening plan in June, the idea that restaurant customers would be dining outside through yet another winter was far from the minds of many, including Schaumburg officials.
But the continued road to recovery has been neither straight nor smooth, as evidenced by the return of an indoor mask mandate and other pandemic-related protocols in Illinois.
And so, at the urging of several restaurants, Schaumburg trustees are strongly considering extending the relaxation of rules that have allowed temporary outdoor dining wherever space allows until March 31, rather than enforcing an original Oct. 31 deadline.
Last week, the planning, building and development committee unanimously recommended the extension, which the full village board will address Oct. 26.
"We pride ourselves on our support of restaurants," Trustee George Dunham said. "There's no reason in the world we should restrict this. We want these people to succeed."
Though the second-largest hub of economic activity in the state all by itself, Schaumburg has looked to its neighboring communities as well in considering its position.
Of those it reached out to, only Hanover Park and Wheeling have firm plans to allow temporary outdoor dining to continue through the winter. Arlington Heights and Naperville recently ended theirs for the season.
Though Hoffman Estates and Lombard have deadlines of Dec. 31, they join Schaumburg as well as Libertyville, Mount Prospect and Rolling Meadows in being in a re-evaluation phase.
An executive order issued by Schaumburg Mayor Tom Dailly in May 2020 allowed temporary outdoor dining permits, The village issued 55 during 2020 and 16 in 2021.
Through a recent survey, the village heard from six restaurants whose owners were particularly interested in continuing their temporary outdoor setups beyond Halloween: Brazil Express Grill, Fat Rosie's Taco & Tequila Bar, Giordano's, Riccardo's a Subway on Golf Road, and Taco Maya.
Michael Garcia, assistant general manager of Fat Rosie's, said his restaurant's 30-by-90-foot tent has helped him cater to a new preference for personal space.
"We hoped we could get through the winter, just to make people more comfortable," Garcia said. "I would love it to go straight through March 31. Personally, it would make my job easier just to give people what they want."
With 18,000 square feet, Shaw's Crab House at Streets of Woodfield has enough space inside to comfortably spread people out. But Managing Partner Bill Nevruz said he understands why other restaurants want to hold on to the flexibility they currently have for temporary outdoor seating.
"Not only do I understand, but I'm supportive," Nevruz said. "A rising tide will lift all boats. The profit margins in restaurants are so stinking low, even successful ones."
While Shaw's is making no plans to repeat its outdoor arrangements of last winter, at the time it was a lifesaver, Nevruz said. The staff catered to loyal customers inside a tent with heaters and blankets.
"Last winter we had very limited indoor capacity," he said. "It was either sit outside or not."
If there has been any positive side to the pandemic, Nevrus said, it's that restaurants and their customers have bonded even more.
"My restaurant has never been closer to the community," he added.
While Schaumburg has made temporary outdoor dining easier for restaurants in the short term, Nevruz believes the village should also have a phased period in which building permanent outdoor space is made simpler.
The Stonewood Ale House at 601 Mall Drive, for instance, recently received village approval for two new outdoor patios. Schaumburg Economic Development Director Matt Frank said consumer preference seemed to be the motivation behind that request.
The temporary outdoor dining that has been permitted since May 2020 concerns only spaces not normally intended for that use, Schaumburg Community Development Director Julie Fitzgerald said.