Watch CBS News

Chicago Restaurant Coalition Criticizes Expansion Of COVID Capacity Limits; Smaller Restaurants Say It's Of No Use To Them

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With Valentine's Day on Sunday, restaurants were hoping for some looser restrictions, and the city announced expanded capacity rules on Wednesday.

But as CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, it turns out that while the city said more people will be allowed to dine inside – a maximum total of 50 rather than 25 – it's not that simple when you read the fine print. Thus, the city is getting no love from the Chicago Restaurant Coalition.

The City of Chicago and Cook County on Wednesday unveiled a new plan to allow bars and restaurants to hold up to 50 people per room – as long as capacity remains at 25 percent.

For a select few, this will mean big business.

"It's a very good thing for us," said Cristiano Vassani, head chef at Gene & Georgetti Steakhouse, at 500 N. Franklin St. in River North.

Gene & Georgetti has more square footage to work with than the average restaurant, with rooms both upstairs and downstairs.

But that's not the norm.

When Parra asked executive chef Chris Gawronski of The Gage Restaurant, 24 S. Michigan Ave., what will change there when the new rules go into effect on Thursday, Gawronski said the answer was "nothing."

The Gage is among those restaurants too small to see a difference.

"First reaction is going to be of course positive, then second reaction is going to be disappointed - because you know that's not going to affect your life," Gawronski said.

The Chicago Restaurant Coalition, who had been pushing to increase capacity to 50 percent in time for the boost Valentine's Day normally brings, had a scathing response to the new city rules.

The coalition called the announcement Wednesday "unfair" and urged aldermen to join them in challenging the mayor.

Chicago Department of Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady did express hope to get there soon.

"I'm very hopeful that just over the next few weeks, if we continue to see the progress that we've made already, we will be at a point to move to fifty percent capacity," Arwady said.

And chefs like Gawronski said they are just hoping they can hang on that long.

"Eleven months in, we've ridden a roller coaster," he said. "Every small step we take will take us to the end of this ride."

The city said every decision is based on metrics like positivity rates and ICU capacity. So once Chicago reaches what they call a "moderate-risk" level, indoor capacity will ease to 40 percent - and then 50 percent if we can hold that level for two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Restaurant Coalition has also urged Mayor Lightfoot and the aldermen to allocate $50 million in tax increment finance (TIF) funds for restaurant grants.

Tax increment financing involves freezing property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts in a given zone for at least 23 years, so that all property tax increases afterward go into a separate fund. The funds are intended to bankroll improvements in struggling city neighborhoods, but have been directed many other places over many years.

The coalition also called on the city to allocate another $50 million to fighting Chicago's "unacceptable crime problems." The coalition in particular highlighted carjackings – which have reached an epidemic level in Chicago this year – and said crime is "discouraging restaurant patrons from coming to Chicago."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.