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Illinois Restaurants Could Reopen at Full Capacity by July

At a news conference Tuesday morning at McCormick Place Convention Center to announce the return of the Chicago Auto Show, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city’s hopes to lift capacity limits on restaurants and other businesses by July 4. Meanwhile, restaurants outside of Chicago could fully reopen by mid-June.

Lightfoot said she wants to get the city’s economy “back on track” and she was encouraged by her Saturday visit to Navy Pier where she saw enthusiastic visitors respect social distance rules while wearing masks and watching a fireworks display. Lightfoot said mask wearing will be a practice that she believes that will continue through the next year or so, mentioning how masks are common sights in foreign countries that have dealt with multiple public health crises.

Lightfoot said COVID-19 metrics are improving and that health experts predictive modeling for the summer are giving the city reason for optimism. This is also good news for fans of summer festivals, Many restaurants lost money in 2020 after the pandemic wiped out the festival slate; food vending at festivals can provide a valuable revenue stream. While Lightfoot said this summer will feel more like the summer of 2019 than the pandemic summer of 2020, she urged caution.

“Don’t skip to end of the chapter: there’s more that’s coming,” the mayor said. “We feel very confident on what the summer is going to look like.”

Illinois Restaurant Association CEO & President Sam Toia tells Eater Chicago that he has a meeting scheduled with city officials later on Tuesday for more clarity on reopening guidelines. Lightfoot’s announcement comes a day after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared the state’s restaurants could open at full capacity on May 19. N.Y. Mayor Bill de Blasio had targeted a July 1 date to remove capacity limits for the Big Apple. Not every restaurant would be able to make that deadline as it takes time to bulk up staff — many service industry workers are reluctant to return to restaurants for various reasons.

The city has stuck to its plans to gradually increase on-premise service for restaurants and bars, which was suspended for a second time on October 29 (the first being in March 2020). Chicago restaurants welcomed indoor diners back in late January at a 25 percent maximum capacity or 25 per room. The capacity limit increased to 40 percent, or a 50 per room max in February. While the city maintained the 50-person limit, capacity was tweaked to 50 percent two weeks later. Last week, Lightfoot announced the most recent adjustment when the maximum per-person capacity was increased to 100 people. Fully vaccinated customers don’t count against capacity limits.

The state could next week advance to a bridge phase between Phase 4 of its COVID-19 recovery plan and Phase 5 — a final phase that comes without capacity limits. While indoor capacity limits for the bridge phase vary by municipality, the phase doesn’t have a radical impact on restaurants and bars. It’s more about loosening restrictions for theaters, sports, and museums.

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