Restaurants and bars are busily preparing to open back up for business outside next Friday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that socially-distanced outdoor serving will be permitted in phase three of his Restore Illinois plan, which the state is prepared to enter on May 29. Only takeout and delivery were permitted under the governor's previous orders, which took effect two months ago.
Amy Eid is co-owner of One World Cafe in Peoria's West Bluff neighborhood.
The eatery has been running a successful takeout business during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, but Eid she's excited to see customers face-to-face again.
"We are obviously working really hard right now to get our flowers planted, to get our tables set up six feet apart, and take all the necessary precautions so we can do this safely," Eid said. She also said servers will take appropriate precautions, such as wearing face coverings.
One World Cafe has used an outdoor patio for seating in the warmer months for the past three years. Eid said she's also working with the city to set up sidewalk seating out front if demand for on-site dining is high enough.
John Thomas is owner of the Forge Steakhouse in Morton. He said sales are way down since reopening in a takeout-only format.
"I think myself and other restauranteurs and bar owners would love to have more, right? But it's certainly a good first step in the right direction," he said.
Thomas said it will be up to local governments to work with restaurants on making more allowances for outdoor seating, such as street seating options.
Peoria County Administrator Scott Sorrel said it's too soon to tell how local government can help bars and restaurants safely reopen. Sorrel said he and Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich will wait for guidance to come down from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC to decide whether they'll take steps like blocking off streets to allow for outdoor seating.
"I would say more to come. And it's definitely on our radar as something that we want to try to find solutions to accommodate, where possible," he said.
Sorrel said they'll also have to figure out how to give diners access to bathrooms, which restaurants are required to offer.
There are more than 1,200 restaurants in Peoria County alone.
Peoria City/County Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson said the governor's decision to allow restaurants to open outdoor seating will help address some of the restlessness people are experiencing during quarantine, while also keeping some safety measures in place.
"To be able to have that compromise and that kind of middle ground, I think is a clear sign that we recognize how public health and improving economic needs in the community really do go hand-in-hand," she said.
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