Are diners really 6 feet apart at suburban restaurants? Officials are getting few complaints.

In most cases, officials say

  • Customers relax while social distancing and wearing masks during lunch hour in downtown Arlington Heights. Keeping 6 feet apart as required by state guidelines proves challenging when seated at a small table like these patrons.

      Customers relax while social distancing and wearing masks during lunch hour in downtown Arlington Heights. Keeping 6 feet apart as required by state guidelines proves challenging when seated at a small table like these patrons. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Outdoor dining is available to customers at the new Buttermilk Cafe in the Mellody Farm Shopping Center. Servers were masked and tables were set up for social distancing at the Vernon Hills restaurant.

      Outdoor dining is available to customers at the new Buttermilk Cafe in the Mellody Farm Shopping Center. Servers were masked and tables were set up for social distancing at the Vernon Hills restaurant. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Patrons Chip Kopp of Arlington Heights and Ed and Holly Mann of Park Ridge enjoy outdoor dining in downtown Arlington Heights. People relaxed with social distancing and wearing masks, but keeping 6 feet apart was challenging when seated at a small table.

      Patrons Chip Kopp of Arlington Heights and Ed and Holly Mann of Park Ridge enjoy outdoor dining in downtown Arlington Heights. People relaxed with social distancing and wearing masks, but keeping 6 feet apart was challenging when seated at a small table. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Patrons are spaced for social distancing but are close to one another because they are seated at small tables in the outdoor eating area in downtown Arlington Heights.

      Patrons are spaced for social distancing but are close to one another because they are seated at small tables in the outdoor eating area in downtown Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Anne Amick and a friend, both from Lake Zurich, are spaced for social distancing but are close to one another because they are seated at small tables in the outdoor eating area in downtown Arlington Heights.

      Anne Amick and a friend, both from Lake Zurich, are spaced for social distancing but are close to one another because they are seated at small tables in the outdoor eating area in downtown Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/10/2020 10:28 AM

With alfresco dining entering its second week, some suburban towns and health departments are reporting few complaints against establishments for not following adequate social distancing rules.

Restaurants and bars across the suburbs have been bustling since they were allowed to reopen for outdoor eating and drinking May 29 with limits on how many patrons they can accommodate at a time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The state's Phase 3 guidelines on outdoor dining include allowing up to six people at a table, spacing tables 6 feet apart, and requiring servers and employees to wear masks and wash or sanitize hands frequently.

"We have recorded less than 10 complaints -- from patrons and employees -- regarding restaurants since May 29," said Karen Ayala, executive director of the Du­Page County Health Department. "We are following up directly with the businesses to ensure they are fully informed of the public health guidance and restrictions. Our goal is to achieve compliance, not to issue violations."

Health officials are relying on customers' reviews and on-site food service inspections to monitor and respond to infractions. They aren't too concerned about a resurgence of COVID-19 cases as people gather more freely at outdoor eating venues as long as everyone abides by masking and social distancing guidelines.

Outdoor dining during lunch hour in downtown Arlington Heights has people relaxed with social distancing and wearing masks. Village officials said there haven't been any issues with reopening thus far.
  Outdoor dining during lunch hour in downtown Arlington Heights has people relaxed with social distancing and wearing masks. Village officials said there haven't been any issues with reopening thus far. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
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Citing roaring success since reopening, some towns are considering expanding outdoor dining beyond sidewalks, streets and parking lots.

"It looked like a typical summer Saturday in downtown Naperville this weekend," Christine Jeffries, president of Dine Naperville and Naperville Development Partnership, said about the traffic at downtown eateries. "The restaurant reopening has certainly had an enthusiastic welcome. Everybody seems to be very cognizant. ... People are wearing masks, social distancing. We're keeping an eye on folks."

Jeffries said that of the roughly 300 restaurants in town, many don't have outdoor space to offer dining. To help those eateries, officials are considering opening up Naper Settlement as picnic grounds starting next week. Naperville restaurants would be allowed to set up food tents, carts or trucks there for free.

"We are also looking into some street closures on weekends to expand outdoor dining," said Jeffries, adding she hopes the governor will be encouraged to allow indoor dining soon as restaurants prove "they can follow the rules."

Patrons enjoying outdoor dining in downtown Arlington Heights. People have relaxed with social distancing and wearing masks while they are out and about, but keeping 6 feet apart is really difficult when seated at a small table.
  Patrons enjoying outdoor dining in downtown Arlington Heights. People have relaxed with social distancing and wearing masks while they are out and about, but keeping 6 feet apart is really difficult when seated at a small table. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Downtown Arlington Heights opened for alfresco dining June 3 with restaurants sprawling onto sidewalks and a portion of the street to expand seating. Officials say they went to "great lengths" to ensure owners and customers adhered to social distancing protocols. No complaints have been reported.

"Mostly 99% has been positive feedback from residents, business owners and those patronizing," said Charles Perkins, village director of planning and community development. "We do have police officers present at various times patrolling."

In Libertyville, officials cited "a robust response" to reopening last weekend.

A portion of East Park Street in downtown Mundelein has been closed off for outdoor dining at Tina G's Cafe, Park Street Craft Kitchen & Bar and Area General Store.
  A portion of East Park Street in downtown Mundelein has been closed off for outdoor dining at Tina G's Cafe, Park Street Craft Kitchen & Bar and Area General Store. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Most village restaurants have some type of outdoor dining area, including private parking lots or shared public parking. So far, 31 downtown restaurants are offering outdoor dining, and officials expect more to set up seating soon after demonstrating they can adequately follow guidelines, said Heather Rowe, village economic development coordinator.

A few complaints have been lodged about how some businesses are handling social distancing, but officials simply reminded the owners of the rules.

"It's an adjustment period," Rowe said. "Sometimes people have to be reeducated about wearing the masks. For the most part, everybody has been compliant. Most people are interested in making it a fun, safe experience for all involved."

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