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Welcome back!

Diners enjoy the great outdoors

By Bob Bong

Violence sparked by protests and demonstrations in Chicago and some

southwest and southern suburbs put a damper on what should have been a banner

weekend for restaurants that had been suffering for months under restrictions

aimed at combatting the spread of COVID-19.

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 that had patios or makeshift outdoor seating areas were

pleasantly surprised by the number of people who showed up on Friday, the first

day they could resume serving dine-in customers as long as they were outdoors.

Diane Roderick, owner of Buck’s Pit Stop in Hodgkins, said she was “busier

than expected” last Friday after opening a patio of sorts in what had been part

of the restaurant’s parking lot.

“We took out part of the south parking lot to add a patio,” she said before

opening the doors at 6501 Kane Ave. in Hodgkins for the first time since

mid-March. Like a lot of restaurants, Buck’s had been offering curbside pickup

during the shutdown.

“My girls are anxious to get back to work,” said Roderick. “They are

anxious to see everybody.”

Buck’s, like other restaurants, also took advantage of the shutdown to do

some work inside the building after 22 years.

“We did some painting,” she said. “Some rearranging. Some major work as

well as minor upgrades. The stuff we couldn’t do when the restaurant was

operating normally. It will be worth it.”

There are some changes.

“We will be closed on Mondays,” she said. “The patio will be open from 11

a.m. to 9 p.m. This is a neighborhood. We try to be respectful for our

neighbors.”

Almost all of her staff came back for the reopening.

“One of my girls didn’t come back. She decided to go to college. I’m so

happy for her.”

Roderick was also thankful.

“I’d like to thank everybody who supported us through the curbside

ordering,” she said.

Gertrude and Jerry Mnlacek, of Burbank, enjoy their first meal outside in two months at Les Brothers in Oak Lawn on Friday. “I prayed for this. We are just so happy to be here,” said Gertrude. (Photo by Dermot Connolly)

Les Brothers opened the patios at its two Hickory Hills locations and

added tents in front of all three of its locations when Phase 3 kicked in on

Friday.

“We put tents in front of all three locations,” said Georgia Les, manager

of Les Brothers restaurant at 8705 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Oak Lawn.

Les Brothers at 7730 W. 95thSt.

in Hickory Hills and Prime Time across the street at 7750 W. 95thSt. both have patios,

Les said.

“We hope to have seating for about 20 in each of the tents,” she said.

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.

Gertrude and Jerry Mnlacek, of Burbank, stopped at the Oak Lawn location

Friday to enjoy their first meal outside in two months.

“I prayed for this. We are just so happy to be here,” said

Gertrude. “I wear a mask when I have to,” she said, indicating the

one around her neck. “But I am healthy and am not concerned about being

here.”

At least half of the 24 tables were filled about noon on Friday.

In Palos Heights, Gino Maira from Mama Vesuvio’s, 6361 W. College Drive,

was looking forward to the reopening.

“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.”

Other restaurants that began offering outdoor dining on Friday were Capri

Ristorante, 12307 S. Harlem Ave. in Palos Heights, which had a tent cover for

its backyard patio as well as some sidewalk seating in the front; JC’s Pub

& Grill, 8650 Joliet Road in McCook, which opened two patios for lunch and

dinner; Zachary’s Grill at 13415 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Palos Heights.

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant

Association, said that outdoor seating would 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

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.”

Restaurants are not expected to open for

indoor dining until Phase 4.

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