CHICAGO (CBS) — Tuesday was the first full day of Governor JB Pritzker’s no dine-in mandate for bars and restaurants in Illinois. Through March 30, those establishments will only be allowed to offer take-out, delivery, or curb-side pick-up. It’s all an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But small business owners are concerned. CBS 2 spoke with some local restaurant owners and managers on how they plan to deal with the new state mandate.
Chicago deep dish staple, Pequod’s Pizza, is typically overflowing onto the Clybourn sidewalk with customers. But things look much different there today. The chairs that are usually packed with patrons are stacked on top of tables, shoved off into corners to make room for make-shift carry-out shelves. Manager, Nick Markham, says they’re taking it one day at a time.
“I don’t think we’ll have the same amount of business. You lose a lot of the inside beverage sales. But we are going to try to do some beer and sodas to-go, as well as try to just keep up and running as best as possible,” Markham said.
They’re even making an exception to the ‘dine-in’ only lunch special, allowing customers to get the same deal to-go. Shifting servers and bartenders to new positions is another way Pequod’s is rolling with the punches.
“We’re going to try to increase our delivery business by having some of the servers with cars do that. We have a server today doing phones– anything we can do to keep them moving and help them through this tough time so they can pay their bills” Markham said.
Other establishments are doing the same.
Bridgette Flagg owns Soulé, a creole-infused soul food restaurant in West Town. Flagg says that on any given night, the wait to dine-in could be over an hour. She’s worried that closing her dining room will have a catastrophic impact on her 26 employees.
“We’re all kind of panicking because we don’t know what’s going on next,” Flagg said.
Some of the Flagg’s employees hold second jobs, but most of those jobs have also closed down or are running limited operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Flagg doesn’t employ delivery drivers, but does use UberEats– a third-party food delivery service. Customers who call in a take-out order can come and pick it up, but will no longer be allowed to wait inside while their order is prepared. Many of them have been waiting outside in their cars.
“If they’re paying cash, we’ll meet them outside. If they’re paying credit, we’ll have staff at the door to bring customers in one at a time,” Flagg said.
Flagg is hoping that her regulars continue to come out and support the restaurant. She plans on running specials every day to draw in as much business as possible.
“We’re small businesses, we need your support. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed and pray about it.”
Right now, the no dine-in policy goes through the end of March. But if restaurants are forced to operate in the same manner beyond that, small business owners wonder how crippling that could be.
“A lot of us aren’t covered. We pay these big policies being restaurant owners, but we’re not covered. You’ll be covered if someone runs a car through your business or if there’s a tornado, but not for a virus. A lot of insurance companies aren’t paying. We’re worried about that,” Flagg said.
The governor’s office says Illinois will file for statewide eligibility in the U.S. Small Business Administration loan program for those facing financial hardship. But many business owners think more could be done.
“I think they need to put a freeze on the employer tax. That would help us out more. Rent is still going, mortgages are still going, it’s like, what do we do? If it [restaurant operation] stops, it could pretty much destroy our business,” Flagg said.
Coalfire Pizza owner, Dave Bonomi, says his biggest concern in all of this is making sure his employees are taken care of.
“A lot of these employees have been with us 10 years plus. Number one, I will always feed my employees no matter how bad this gets. I know it’s not going to pay the mortgage or rent, but we’re hoping to maybe get subsidized by the government in some shape or form,” Bonomi said.
Even though his business is suffering, he supports the rationale behind the state’s temporary closures.
“Hindsight is 20/20. It probably should’ve been done sooner, but it’s a delicate situation. There are steps that have to be taken. They don’t want everyone panicking,” he said.
CBS 2 visited Bonomi at his West Town location– the other Coalfire Pizza is in Lakeview. Like so many small business owners, Bonomi hopes the public will continue to show support for their local shops.
“If your coffee shops are open, please support them. If your florist is still open, please support them; pizza parlors, small sandwich spots– it’s gonna get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Service industry workers who rely on tips can now receive emergency relief funds to help cover various costs surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
The One Fair Wage campaign is offering $213 in cash for any tipped workers who qualify.
Information on the emergency fund and how to donate can be found here.