CHICAGO (CBS) — Valentine’s Day usually brings a rush of lovestruck couples to restaurants.
That’s the case this year too – along with a reprieve from the frigid temps in Chicago, but also with restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.READ MORE: Woman Sexually Assualted On Wellington In Lake View Neighborhood
CBS 2’s Marissa Parra on Sunday explored how some restaurants are getting creative with the capacity limits.
Money doesn’t buy love, but it turns out the day of love brings business.
“That’s a good thing to have the phone starting to ring, we like this sound, it’s a good sound for us,” said Chef Dominique Tougne of Chez Moi and French Quiche, both on Halsted Street in Lincoln Park.
That ringing phone is a welcome sound, because Valentine’s Day is bringing orders in numbers Tougne hasn’t seen in a while.
“We are at maximum capacity tonight,” Tougne said.
This week, ahead of the rush Cupid’s Day would bring, the city changed capacity rules to be either 25 percent or 50 people per room, whichever is lower.
For Chez Moi, nothing really changes.
“When they say you can go up to 50 people in a room, I still cannot,” Tougne said, “because you can see, it’s a small restaurant, so we cannot really increase the capacity. We cannot push the walls, you know?”
For others like Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, 1028 N. Rush St., the change to capacity limit changed everything.
“At the main dining room here at Gibsons, we were able to increase to 50 people from the 25 percent. We also were able to bring back a few employees that we had laid off,” said John Colletti of Gibsons. “That’s huge. That’s huge.”READ MORE: Commemoration Of Juneteenth Nationally And In Illinois
But in the fight to survive this rollercoaster of a year – with fewer people allowed inside, spaced apart – smaller restaurants have started thinking outside the box by getting crafty with what goes inside special takeout boxes.
“We came up with an idea that we call the Gourmet Box,” Tounge said. “I like to say that the restaurant is called ‘Chez Moi’ and our gourmet box is called ‘Chez Toi.’”
That is, “your place,” rather than “my place.”
The entire business model looks different than before. Places like Chez Moi, at 2100 N. Halsted St. at Dickens Avenue, are seeing as many takeout orders as they are reservations to dine inside.
“It’s probably 50/50. We probably did as many take out as we have in the restaurant,” Tounge said.
He said this such a thing has never happened before.
“No, this is new,” Tounge said.
But Colletti said while things may look different, restaurants will always remain a place that brings people together – even if it’s from six feet apart
“There’s memories that happen on this day, especially Valentine’s Day,” Colletti said. “I just heard one this morning when I was sitting at the bar about a couple who met here. They met here about eight, 10 years ago; just married about five years ago. It’s wonderful. We love hearing those stories. That’s what we’re here for.”
There were many Chicago restaurants that had pushed for the city to expand to 50 percent capacity by this weekend. The city said this depends on metrics like positivity rates and ICU capacity.MORE NEWS: Chicago's Famed Palmer House Reopens With Millions Of Dollars In Renovations
Once Chicago reaches a “moderate risk” level, the level will increase to 40 percent – and then 50 percent if we can hold that for two weeks.