Food & Drinks

Chicago Eases COVID-19 Indoor Dining Restrictions

The city of Chicago has increased the maximum number of customers allowed inside restaurants. Chicago officials have adjusted COVID-19 restrictions and will now allow restaurants to serve at a 50 percent maximum capacity (up from 40 percent). Chicago’s liquor stores can now alcohol later into the night, with the cutoff moved from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. As more and more bars and restaurants are starting to reopen, the city has also extended on-premise operating times from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The order goes into effect immediately.

It’s been two weeks since the city moved to 40 percent capacity, and Illinois Restaurant Association president and CEO Sam Toia says his membership expected an announcement from the city. The current rule allows for a 40 percent maximum or 50 people per room — whatever number is lower. The 50-person limit remains unchanged.

Tables remain at a six-person limit and parties should still be seated six feet from each other. At a time when industry workers continue to wait for their chance at a COVID-19 vaccine, customers must wear their masks unless they are eating or drinking. Workers, including bartenders, should continue to wear masks at all times.

While the city wouldn’t move on the 50-person limit, Toia says the city has shown interest in loosening restrictions for venues that use plexiglass barriers to separate parties. The use of barriers helps protect customers from larger spray-born droplets released when people cough or talk loudly (the type of chatter that often occurs at bars). But health experts say smaller droplets can still get around the shields.

Plexiglas barriers were installed last year at Utopian Tailgate in Old Town.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Toia is also hopeful that the city will soon examine its private event restrictions. He expects to see more communions, bar mitzvahs, and weddings this spring, and the current cap for private events in Chicago is at 50. The association would like to see that number increase to 100 to 150.

Meanwhile, as stories of service worker anxiety and disrespectful customers continue to crop up in Chicago, Toia says he’s pressing Mayor Lori Lightfoot to allow restaurant and bar workers to be vaccinated earlier. Right now, the city’s health department is targeting March 29 when those employees would be eligible: “Restaurant workers are essential workers, just like grocery workers,” Toia says.

Increasing capacity without making workers eligible for vaccinations has sent a conflicting message to employees in Chicago, who see their fellow restaurant workers in Detroit and New York City being vaccinated. The narrative is that the government views workers as disposable, as this essay in Bon Appétit posits.

Still, public health experts advise caution in reopening businesses. At a Monday White House briefing, Rochelle Walensky — the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — warned that Americans need to continue to use caution when loosening rules designed to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Indoor dining returned to Chicago in late January at a 25 percent maximum capacity after state and city officials mandated the closure of dining rooms in late October.

Crain’s first reported the news of the 50 percent increase.

  • COVID-19 Orders [City of Chicago]
  • Chicago expected to increase indoor dining capacity to 50 percent [Crain’s]
  • Why plexiglass alone can’t prevent Covid-19 [Vox]
  • The pandemic plight of Chicago restaurant workers: Maskless customers, no vaccines and a constant COVID-19 risk [Tribune]
  • Restaurant Workers Should Be Prioritized for the Vaccine. Why Aren’t We? [Bon Appetit]
  • ‘Please hear me clearly’: CDC director urges states not to reopen too soon as cases plateau [ABC]
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