Restaurants are slowly starting to open their doors again, allowing guests to enjoy the summer sun with outdoor seating options and a taste of what used to be normal.
Illinois is currently in Phase 3 of Gov. JB Prtizker’s “Restore Illinois” plan. This allows for more non-essential businesses to open to the public with safety precautions.
Bloomington-Normal restaurants and bars began offering outdoor seating to help guests enjoy their food while staying socially distant.
When quarantine first began, Medici closed down for a couple weeks before offering carryout, delivery and curbside pickup options.
The Uptown Normal restaurant now has its patio open, with tables at least 6 feet apart.
“We had to shuffle tables around to make sure we met all the requirements with sanitation, spacing and social distancing,” Medici General Manager Joe Slane said.
“I think the guests are just happy to be back and being able to sit, be waited on and go dining,” Slane said. “They seem to be very respectful of the expectations we have and they’re understanding of the challenges we’re facing.”
Restaurants also follow a number of safety precautions, not only for the well-being of staff but customers as well.
“We ask guests to wear a mask when they’re in the common area or bathroom,” Slane said. “To get to our patio you have to go through our indoor area, so we set up lanes inside for going in and going out, so that guests don’t cross much.”
Even common things such as condiments on a table or salt and pepper shakers are different now. Restaurants are opting for single-use products and condiment packs rather than a container that travels from table to table.
“Things that used to be pretty common have changes,” Emack & Bolios employee Carter Calarco said. “We don’t have creamer sitting out anymore for people’s coffee. If a customer wants napkins, we get it for them since we are wearing gloves and a mask.”
Most of Emack & Bolios’ orders take place through a walk-up window on the side of the building. They have an outdoor seating area, along with the option of phone-in pickup orders. If customers have a mask, they can come inside the restaurant to order, however, they cannot dine in.
“[As staff,] we’re washing our hands after every order and we wear masks to keep ourselves and other people safe,” Calarco said.
However, an issue of concern for these two Uptown Normal restaurants is staffing.
“A lot of our employees are on campus, so when quarantine started nobody was really [here],” Calarco said. “Recently we’ve been able to have more people come back so we can have a normal schedule.”
Slane adds that Medici has a very limited staff as the restaurant was only offering delivery, pickup and curbside options.
“We’ve been bringing our staff back and training them with these new social norms,” Slane said. “We’re making sure everyone is following the procedures as much as possible, to make our guests and staff safe.”
Slane adds that since quarantine began sales have gone down for Medici.
“Being able to open the outside is helpful quite a bit,” Slane said. “We’re still not near the sale numbers that we used to be.”
The future is still unclear, and restaurants don’t know an exact date they will be allowed to offer indoor dine-in experiences.
“So much is unknown until the last minute,” Slane said. “We didn’t know we were going to reopen outdoors until a few days before.”
He adds that the Medici staff is preparing for indoor dining as much as possible by moving tables around to create more space in between guests.
“We just have the standard expectations right now that it will be a reduced occupancy and that tables will have to be so far apart,” Slane said.
However, the taste of normalcy gives restaurant employees hope for the future.
“It [used to feel] like a one-time interaction with having customers come up to the window, now we get to interact with customers a lot more which is nice,” Calarco said. “Things are getting closer to normal.”
“We’re happy to be back open, we’re looking forward to being able to expand that even more,” Slane said. “We’re ready for things to be a little more normal around here.”