By Marie Saavedra

CHICAGO (CBS) — Friday night was like Chicago has not seen in more than a year. The city is now in the “bridge phase” of reopening after COVID-19 restrictions, meaning bigger crowds just about everywhere.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state and the City of Chicago announced changes restaurants can make as to who they host and how. The restaurateurs CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra spoke with are happy with the changes but say it is a lot to absorb, so don’t expect change everywhere right away.

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“It was a big announcement, yeah,” said Wesley Conger, general manager at Swift & Sons.

She was able to seat her largest group of diners in more than a year Friday night. The start of the bridge phase in the state and city means higher capacities.

“The biggest change I’d say right now that we’ve already made is that we are taking 10 tops inside, where up until this point it’s been only six people at one table,” Conger said.

But the CDC’s newly relaxed stance on masking hasn’t changed the rules inside the restaurant.

“We’re really still in conversations right now about how we want this to look for us,” Conger said.

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Masks are also staying on across the street at Marvin’s Food and Fuel. 

“I think right now the servers, the staff, those taking care of our guests are going to stay with masks and make sure everyone’s comfortable,” said owner James Geier.

Geier has another rule to calculate. In Chicago restaurants, fully vaccinated people do not have to count toward capacity, but does that mean asking for CDC vaccine cards? Theirs is one of many restaurants still figuring that out.

“I think we’re going to start asking, if they have any issue one way or another and have them comment to us,” said Geier. 

It continues to be a unique balance of wanting to protect employees while serving customers the best they can. The state may be opening up more, but that difficult challenge remains. 

“The situation has required that we all become creative and more thoughtful about those kind of questions and making sure that people are comfortable,” said Geier.

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On the issue of masks, Chicago’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Bureau said with the CDC’s announcement, the city and state are reviewing their regulations. They plan to release new guidelines in the next few days that are more in line with the CDC. However, until then, that means mask requirements are still in place.

Marie Saavedra