How Will County's COVID-19 restrictions are affecting some Naperville restaurants
Navigating the state's changing coronavirus restrictions has been a roller coaster for Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano in Naperville, with its most recent drop stemming from an indoor dining ban implemented in Will County.
A set of more stringent mitigation measures took effect Wednesday, leaving restaurant leaders scrambling to increase alfresco dining capacity, alleviate sales losses and keep their employees on the payroll, said Casey Gru, area director of operations for Biaggi's.
The patio is only large enough to seat six tables under social distancing guidelines, she said, so dining furniture was added along the sidewalks. A tent is expected to be installed in the parking lot to create additional seating.
But those weather-dependent accommodations might not be sustainable for long, she said.
"It's certainly frustrating," Gru said. "Every day it's something different, and we're trying to navigate the best we can."
The new restrictions, which also impact Kankakee County, were announced Monday after the region hit a COVID-19 positivity rate of 8% for three days. Changes include closing eateries and bars by 11 p.m., requiring reservations for each party, and reducing the size of public gatherings, meetings and events to 25 people or 25% of room capacity.
But in DuPage County, less than a mile north of Biaggi's, establishments can proceed as usual under Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, meaning limited indoor dining and groups of up to 50 people are allowed.
That puts restaurants and bars in the southern portion of Naperville at a competitive disadvantage for at least two weeks, though state health officials have warned additional action will be taken if metrics don't improve.
"I don't think it's fair," said Filiz Sav, who owns EggCited Pancake House on Hassert Boulevard. "It's affecting my staff. It's affecting us as a small business. It's a huge mess."
In the first day of the new restrictions, business dropped by 50%, Sav said. The restaurant's outdoor seating area can hold about 10 tables, compared to 50 inside, she said, and her staff has been cut from 35 people to 10.
Most establishments have already gone through the process of shrinking their workforce and rehiring employees as COVID-19 restrictions evolved, said Reba Osborne, director of governmental affairs for the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. Those affected by the new mitigation efforts now face another level of unpredictability as they make future financial and staffing decisions.
"The one thing businesses need to flourish is certainty," Osborne said. "The uncertainty is really just a monkey wrench (thrown) into a business being able to maintain itself."
Wednesday also marked the first day of a stricter mask mandate for bar and restaurant patrons statewide, requiring customers to don face coverings during any interaction with servers and employees. Though the rule is designed to protect workers, it also puts some added pressure on them to enforce compliance among their customers, Osborne said, "and that's where it becomes difficult."
Keeping up with the frequently changing guidelines -- and ensuring patrons are aware of them -- has been challenging for Paris Bistro, manager Gabriela Trejo said. Located in the same Naperville Crossings shopping center as Biaggi's, she said, she was concerned customers would react negatively to the new Will County restrictions, though most have been requesting to dine alfresco anyway.
With restaurants throughout Illinois and in several other states, Biaggi's operators have been going "above and beyond" to adhere to the different COVID-19 restrictions at each location, Gru said. Though the company is supportive of any decision to keep employees and customers safe, she said, the inconsistencies have been challenging.
"We're just trying to go with the flow as best we can," Gru said. "Everybody's in this together. We're trying to be smart. We want to do the right thing. But we also have a business to run."