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Lightfoot Allows Limited Expansion Of Indoor Dining, Sets Road Map For Further Easing Of Restrictions


After the restaurant industry clamored all winter for state and municipal officials to ease indoor dining restrictions, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday announced she was giving restaurant owners part of what they said they needed to survive.

New rules go into effect Thursday, just before Valentine’s Day weekend when restaurants typically rake in revenue, allowing bars and restaurants to fill to 25% capacity, or up to 50 people per room, double the previous maximum of 25. The maximum could increase in several steps to 50% capacity if the city sees its coronavirus infection rate fall further and other benchmarks improve.

“We are definitely trending in the right direction today, and I thank the residents and businesses that continue to do what is necessary to save lives,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “The tragedy of this pandemic unfortunately continues but there’s hope at the end of this long journey. This path to 50% capacity ensures that we move forward with hope and confidence but also with the necessary precautions in place to ensure that the rush to reopen doesn’t endanger our progress.”    

Restaurant owners say the move could be too late to stop mass closures. North Side restaurant owner Phillip Waters told Bisnow the move "will help restaurants slightly," but it's probably too late to make big Valentine’s Day plans. 

“This is ultimately a miss,” said Waters, who owns The Bristol at 2152 North Damen Ave.

Waters has kept the 100-seat restaurant open the past 10 months by hosting diners outside, even after winter arrived, allowing him to keep some people employed. But the business, which he opened 12 years ago, has lost 75% of its revenue.

Wednesday's infection rate was 4.7%, according to city public health officials, the lowest since October. New cases, hospitalizations and deaths have also dropped significantly since the second wave of COVID-19 reached its height this winter. 

The city is currently averaging 466 cases per day, but if that slips below 400 for three consecutive days and if infection rates and hospital visits continue at a low or moderate rate, the city will allow restaurants and bars to go up to 40% capacity. Capacity will increase to 50% if those numbers are maintained for two weeks, city officials said.

“While we’re excited to be making this move today and further re-opening Chicago, it needs to be done the right way or we risk seeing an uptick in cases and having to tighten restrictions yet again,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said in a statement. “I’m proud of how far we’ve come as a city and I know we can do this smartly and safely.”