By Bob Bong
Even though restaurants have been allowed to be open during the pandemic shutdown, restaurateurs are eagerly gearing up to reopen patios and add other outdoor seating when Restore Illinois moves into Phase 3 this weekend.
Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz said the city’s economic development staff was working with restaurants to get them permits so they could be open this weekend with tents and other outdoor seating arrangements.
“We have been closed for too long,” he said. “You want it to be safe, but you can’t remain closed forever.”
“We will be open,” said Gino Maira from Mama Vesuvio’s, 6361 W. College Dr. in Palos Heights. “We have a rather large patio area with some covered areas that normally seats about 200. We can cut that back to 100 or 75.”
The bocce ball courts will also be open.
“We will follow all of the guidelines as well as use some common sense,” he said.
“We want the chance to conduct business the same way we have for the past 40 years,” he said.
Maira said the restaurant is taking reservations, but will accommodate walk-in diners.
One concession he said he was making to the pandemic was entertainment.
“We are cancelling all entertainment this summer,” he said. “We will bring it back in the fall.”
Also planning to offer outdoor seating is Capri Ristorante, 12307 S. Harlem Ave. in Palos Heights. The restaurant hopes to have a tent cover for its backyard patio as well as some sidewalk seating in the front.
Zachary’s Grill at 13415 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Palos Heights announced on Facebook it would be opening its patio from 3-10 p.m. Friday, May 29.
“We will be accepting reservation and walk ins! We have a delicious new menu for the patio and are so happy to see everyone! Cheers,” the restaurant said in its posting.
The new Rooftop Tap at 12231 S. Harlem Ave. will hold its grand opening at noon Friday in the former Zachary’s, which took over for the original Rooftop Tap when it closed a couple of years ago.
“With the right restrictions, tables six feet apart and away from the sidewalks, masks and distancing measures for staff and other precautions, the experts believe that these services can open at a risk comparable to other outdoor activities,” Pritzker said last week when he announced outdoor seating would be allowed.
Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said that outdoor seating will not be a solution for every restaurant, but it will be “a benefit to many at a time when every dollar counts.”
Toia said that more than half of Illinois restaurants have closed during the stay-at-home order, plummeting sales by 70 to 80 percent and putting 321,000 employees out of work. He called Pritzker’s announcement a “step in the right direction” that gives restaurants a chance to get creative.
“Let’s close down streets. Let’s expand sidewalk cafes. Let’s use parking lots and public ways,” he said. “Let’s show the world how innovative Illinois can be.”
Orland Park took that message to heart and last week agreed to allow restaurants that don’t have patios to temporarily use parking lot space for outdoor seating.
“We are doing all we can to come up with ways to in which the village can assist businesses in their recovery,” said Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau. “Once restaurants are allowed to reopen, they will now have options for increasing seating without violating social distancing guidelines.”
“Outdoor seating and dining will allow businesses to expand the number of patrons served,” said Pekau. “With more customers, comes the need for more servers, more tables served means more bussers needed, more diners needing to be seated, more hosts and the list just grows.”
Public Information Communication Manager Nabeha Zegar came up with idea. On Tuesday, she said the formal application process for the permits just began and she didn’t know how many restaurants had applied for outdoor seating.
Felicitas Cortez, executive director of the Orland Area Chamber of Commerce, said Girl in the Park at 1265 W. 159th St. in Orland Park and the Barrel Club at 4910 W. 111th St. in Oak Lawn were both planning or being open on Friday.
A manager at Papa Joe’s, 14459 S. LaGrange Road, said the restaurant was hoping to be open this weekend.
Les Brothers plans to open the patios at its Hickory Hills locations and add tents in front of all three of its locations when Phase 3 kicks in on Friday.
“We plan to offer outdoor seating as soon as possible,” Georgia Les, manager of Les Brothers restaurant at 8705 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Oak Lawn, said Tuesday.
Les Brothers at 7730 W. 95th St. in Hickory Hills and Prime Time across the street at 7750 W. 95th St. both have patios, Les said.
“We’re also putting tents in front of all three locations,” she said. “We hope to have seating for about 20 in each of the tents.”
Hours will be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Oak Lawn Les Brothers location, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hickory Hills location, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Prime Time.
The Original Plush Horse ice cream parlor in Palos Park will not officially open its patio for the immediate future, but customers are free to use benches and seats while they enjoy their ice cream.
Under state guidelines, restaurant servers will wear masks and gloves and tables will be six-feet apart. Employees will have their temperatures taken at the start of their shifts. Restaurants will be allowed about half of their normal guest count.
Restaurants are not expected to open for indoor dining until Phase 4.
All state parks will also reopen on May 29 under Phase 3 along with indoor and outdoor tennis facilities.
Golf courses will allow four people per tee time and golf carts will be permitted with either one person or one immediate household per cart. Boating and camping of up to 10 people will also be permitted.