After doing what they could with just takeout, outdoor service, and indoor dining at 25% capacity, now Chicago’s restaurants need to prepare for winter. The city just released its guidelines for Winter Outdoor Dining, and there are more questions than ever about how restaurants will survive as the temperature drops.
That’s why The Infatuation & Zagat Stories have teamed up to bring the perspectives of industry workers to the forefront as they process their hopes, fears, optimism, and frustrations over the upcoming cold weather months, and beyond.
We’ll continue to update this post with more voices as they come in. If you work in the restaurant industry in any capacity, and you would like to submit your own thoughts on indoor dining, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and we’ll review them for posting here.
If you want to support your favorite restaurants beyond dining with them, amplify the work of the Independent Restaurant Coalition and demand federal funding for non-chain restaurants. Check out their site here to send a letter to your representatives and find out more about spreading their message.
Jason Vincent, Chef/Owner of Giant in Logan Square and Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar in Wicker Park
“We are being forced into making a bad decision. If we don’t open this winter, we may never open again. If we do open, we could be responsible for getting people sick or worse. The federal, state, and city government should be stepping up right now to help and if they don’t then we won’t be here anymore.” 9/21/20
Bruce Finkelman, Managing Partner of 16” On Center (Pizza Friendly Pizza, Empty Bottle, Moneygun)
"After the initial throws of the pandemic, I believed we wouldn’t return to indoor dining or events until a vaccine was discovered. But as we enter our 7th month of various levels of quarantine - and patio season wanes, we as a business are at a crossroads. It’s the choice of hanging a “see you next summer” (hopefully) sign on the door, and re-furloughing all our staff, or figuring out a manner of operating that’s safe for our staff and customers. We love being hospitable and would like to remain open, but safety needs to lead our charge." 9/26/20
Phillip Walters & John Ross, Co-Owners of The Bristol in Wicker Park And Formento’s and Nonna’s in the West Loop
“We believe outdoor dining in Chicago is fading fast and will not be attractive to diners competing with us or dining in the comfort of their own homes. Igloos, terrariums, and tents are a “lose” in precious capital investment, especially at 25% occupancy [...].
Based on the city and state policies not changing in the future, it appears that bringing the guests a restaurant experience to their home - from service to wine, and partially “picking up” or preparing dishes to order - may be the future.” 9/22/20
James Bateman, Owner of Gadabout in Andersonville
“We’ve had four months worth of severely reduced income: between government help, takeout, and now dine-in at a very reduced capacity. We received a PPP loan, but those funds have since run out. We were denied an EIDL. I’ve been spending most of my time now working on the PPP forgiveness as well as financial projections [...].
As far as I can tell, the only thing that is actually going to make this pandemic survivable for all of us (rather than just the ones that have been around for years, or have the resources of a giant group of investors or celebrities) is more government help.” 9/22/20
Manish Mellick, Owner of Rooh in West Loop
“We are brainstorming different ideas. But operationally it’s becoming challenging - since we can’t get hot food out to the patio. And take dishware in and out either.” 9/23/20
Florian Pfahler, Managing Partner of Hannah’s Bretzel Downtown
“Restaurants, similar to art, are the reflection of the diverse culture of our communities and our society, and collectively we are the second-largest private-sector employer in the country. Without additional financial support, like the Restaurant Act that has bi-partisan support, a vast part of the country’s food culture will not survive this winter. We hope that politicians will act proactively and soon to preserve what is still operational as so many great concepts, chefs, and brands have already closed permanently.” 9/22/20