With reduced capacity, Twisted Hippo in Albany Park is using just three tables. They can expand starting next week. Credit: Twisted Hippo

CHICAGO — Chicago’s bars and restaurants can open their doors to diners beginning June 26 but only at 25 percent capacity, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday.

The city’s bars and restaurants for months were only allowed to offer curbside pickup or delivery due to the coronavirus pandemic and stay at home order. Outdoor patio service was allowed for restaurants starting June 3, and bars and breweries were allowed to serve outdoor guests Wednesday.

But Lightfoot will allow limited indoor dining and drinking on June 26, the soonest the state will allow as that’s when all regions of Illinois move into Phase 4 of the reopening plan.

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Under the city’s rules, restaurants and bars will be allowed to have indoor service, but only at 25 percent capacity with a limit of 50 people per room or floor. Customers will have to be seated at tables 6 feet apart with 10 or fewer people per table.

People will only be allowed to be seated at bars and similar businesses for up to two hours. On-site alcohol sales at bars and restaurants must end at 11 p.m., and carryout or delivery alcohol sales must end at 9 p.m.

Employees are required to wear face coverings at all times, and customers are required to wear face coverings when seated, according to the city’s guidelines.

Outdoor seating should remain the priority “for safe dining and drinking,” the city said.

The mayor has pushed the state to allow indoor dining for weeks, despite being even more strict with other parts of Chicago’s reopening than the state has been. In fact, Chicago likely won’t enter its own form of Phase 4 until July 1, the city’s public health commissioner previously announced.

And the announcement comes as other states are experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases after indoor dining and bars reopened. Medical experts point to the lack of face coverings and social distancing leading to these spikes in Florida and Oklahoma.

The city’s and state’s top doctors have said they aren’t even participating in reopened outdoor dining — let alone indoor dining.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said last week she hasn’t eaten at a patio because she’s being very careful.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, told the Sun-Times she won’t feel comfortable eating inside for at least three months to a year.

Obedience to the city’s guidelines for dining has been mixed. Some spots have implemented even stricter guidelines than the city’s, insisting diners do temperature checks or sign waivers.

But at other restaurants, people have crowded together without physical distancing, servers have worked without masks and people have been seated fully indoors against city rules.

The Illinois Restaurant Association has pushed for indoor dining with restrictions, and Lightfoot said it was badly needed to save the industry and small restaurants in Chicago. Some restaurants, closed to all but delivery and pickup for months, have closed or were facing closures.

But servers have said they fear for their safety as they’re forced back to work since not everyone is following the city’s and state’s rules for dining.

Rochelle Semons, who is a food runner at Big Star in Wicker Park and a server at Utopian Tailgate in Old Town, said last week she was asked back by both of her jobs when outdoor dining was allowed, but she declined the work because she doesn’t feel safe.

“I drove through Old Town and saw so many people outside not distancing themselves and not wearing masks anymore. I simply don’t feel comfortable,” Semons said.

For now, Semons is able to remain on unemployment benefits, but she worries about losing them if restaurants rush to reopen and bring their employees back.

“They haven’t offered sick pay, hazard pay, to cover our health benefits if we do get sick — nothing to make us want to work for them and feel safe doing so,” Semons said.

Chicago is getting about 185 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 related deaths per day, officials said Thursday.

The city has had 50,071 confirmed cases and 2,458 COVID-related deaths.

Read all of Block Club’s coverage on outdoor dining here.

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