Suburban restaurants prepare to reopen -- with precautions -- for outdoor dining
Docks Bar and Grill in Wauconda has fielded more than 200 calls since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last week that outdoor dining would be part of the third phase of Illinois' reopening plan.
Diners are seeking reservations to Docks' 6,500-square-foot patio overlooking Bangs Lake. Capacity, however, will be cut nearly in half because of safety precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. And diners will have to wait for tables in their cars.
"I tell them it's first-come, first-serve," said Docks general manager Jeff Lencioni. "They're pretty understanding, but they're biting at the bit to get out and enjoy it."
The promise of outdoor dining beginning Friday, May 29, is a partial lifeline for lots of restaurants who have had to rely on deliveries and takeout orders since the statewide lockdown began on March 15.
But it isn't as easy as throwing open patio doors. Restaurant workers will need to wear masks and gloves and have their temperatures checked regularly. Communal condiments caddies are gone in favor of individual ketchup and mustard packets.
Like all restaurants, Docks has to comply with coronavirus social distancing and other safety guidelines as outlined in a seven-page illustrated document put out by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity. So the number of patio tables has been reduced from 40 to 21 -- each one spaced six feet apart.
Other suburban restaurants that don't have outdoor patios are getting creative as they prepare to welcome customers safely.
On top of purchasing "gallons of hand sanitizer," the German restaurant Schnitzel Platz received zoning permission from Glendale Heights to carve out a new biergarten from about nine of its parking lot spaces.
"We have loyal customers who really want us to reopen," said Schnitzel Platz owner Chuck Wozniak. He added that because of them, he offered a full takeout menu rather than a reduced menu during quarantine. "My cooks were mad at me."
David Miller, the owner of Lisle-based Chef By Request catering, just wants to put his culinary staff to work. Miller is also owner of Elements banquet hall in Naperville, which cannot reopen because of its indoor second-story location as part of Hotel Indigo.
"Everybody else on Water Street has access to first-floor dining, to the plaza and to the riverfront," Miller said.
So Miller devised a tented pop-up restaurant called Riverside Pub and Grub that will be open on weekends through July 4 that is located in the Naperville Township parking lot at 139 Water St. The menu features a variety of comfort food, including barbecued ribs and pulled pork in a nod to Naperville losing the annual Ribfest to Romeoville -- which wound up being canceled because of the pandemic.
"I think it's going to give people a little bit of a break out since summer is here," Miller said. He added that the pop-up restaurant will have an outdoor festival feel because all of the food and drinks will be served with disposable plates, cups and utensils.
Other villages such as Batavia and Algonquin are also working with restaurants to expand their outdoor summer presence. Some areas are planning to close down select streets to allow for more outdoor dining.
Roberto Avila is poised to benefit as the owner of four suburban Altiro Latin Fusion locations. His tapas restaurants on Hale Street in Wheaton and Stolp Avenue in Aurora will be temporarily dedicated to outdoor dining.
"It will be really nice for business," said Avila, adding that the extra space on the street in both Wheaton and Aurora will help with proper social distancing. Avila will continue on with curbside pickup and deliveries for customers who don't want to risk dining out.
In Arlington Heights, plans are afoot to close down portions of Vail Avenue and Campbell Street next month for an Arlington Alfresco district.
La Tasca Tapas co-owner Peter Sarantopoulos plans to follow all the state safety precautions in terms of gloves, masks and temperature checks for his staff. He'll also give alfresco customers the option of disposable plates and silverware.
Sarantopoulos can't wait for outdoor dining to be expanded, and he's happy that the village is working with restaurants and the Chamber of Commerce to make it happen.
"It's the difference between life and death for the restaurants," Sarantopoulos said. "I tell you now that all the restaurants are suffering."
As part of Phase 3: Recovery of The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity's "Restore Illinois" handbook, these suggestions were given to restaurants and bars for outdoor dining:
The minimum guidelines for restaurants welcoming customers:
• A six-person party limit.
• Implement a reservation or call-ahead model, if practical. All outdoor dining areas must be staffed to ensure social distancing will be maintained prior to guests being seated.
• Customers should wait for services off premises, either outdoors and maintaining social distance of 6 feet with the use of recommended face coverings or in their vehicles. Customers should be seated immediately upon entry.
• Customers should wear face coverings over their nose and mouth while on premises, except while eating and drinking at the table (exceptions can be made for people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a face covering).
Encouraged best practices:
• Before allowing entrance, employers should ask whether the customer is currently exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
• If practical, employer should take customer temperature using thermometer (infrared/thermal cameras preferred, touchless thermometers permitted).
Restaurant employers are advised to keep a log of all external suppliers who enter premises to assist with any potential contact tracing. Customers may want to keep a personal log of the times and locations of restaurants that they've dined at for easy reference.