The restaurant field is one of the sectors most affected economically due to the impact of COVID-19, say some Latino entrepreneurs from Chicago neighborhoods. But the outlook could look even bleaker in Chicago’s long, harsh winter.
Waiters, dishwashers, cooks, bartenders who work in Chicago restaurants are mostly immigrants, many of them Latino. Now, with the change in temperatures and with the pandemic that does not give up, they are worried about an uncertain future.
Although restaurants have been able to seat diners indoors at 25% of their capacity since June, some business owners who have patios say that most customers prefer outdoor seating because there is less risk of contagion from the coronavirus. Therefore, they are now looking for ideas and initiatives such as installing bonfires, tents, awnings, blankets, heat lamps and even igloos to keep the flow of people to their business.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection announced the lifting of several restrictions on bars and restaurants, due to progress in the fight against covid-19, on 1 October.
For restaurants it changed its capacity limit to 40% with a limit of 50 total customers within a room or space in restaurants and no more than six people per table.
Breweries, taverns, bars and other establishments that serve alcohol and do not have a license to sell food also resumed service indoors: the maximum capacity is 25% or 50 people. For all businesses the use of masks and social distancing of six feet are still maintained.
Lightfoot said during the announcement of the easing of restrictions that, thanks to the cooperation of the business community, he has faced this challenging time with commitment and resilience and that the sacrifices made by businesses, workers and residents have saved countless lives. “This next step of reopening is good news for business owners, as well as the communities they serve and the thousands of residents who work for them.”
With the arrival of the cold, restaurants and bars in the West Loop have begun to make arrangements to extend the season of cookouts, in order to retain the expanded capacity established by the City.
Five Fulton Market restaurants in Chicago welcomed customers into unique igloo structures as part of the ‘Dining Together Apart’ initiative, an effort by Anheuser-Busch and Stella Artois companies to help business entrepreneurs expand their service of food and drinks outdoors in the coldest months of the city. This happened on October 16.
Latino restaurant owners seek to keep their staff and struggle to keep their doors open, so they prepare and devise strategies to keep their businesses afloat during the freezing temperatures that lie ahead in the Windy City.
Many of the small-capacity, non-patio dining restaurants in the northwest and southwest of Chicago are focusing their efforts on takeout and home delivery service, something they have already been working on this summer and that They think it will grow stronger during the long winter and as the pandemic continues.
Most restaurants in Hispanic neighborhoods don’t have patio space and don’t have enough funds to invest in tents or outdoor heat lamps like in the West Loop, said Veronica Romero, co-leader of the Southwest Chamber of Commerce of Chicago
“We cannot do the same as they do there because of space, we are on 26th Street. I have only two tables on the sidewalk outside the business, putting an igloo is not an option for us,” said Roberto González, owner of the Don Pepe restaurant from the neighborhood of La Villita.
For restaurant owners who still do not use virtual platforms, Romero recommended using them and those who have already been using them since the pandemic began said that takeaway and home delivery services must be further strengthened, using schemes in the market like Uber Eats and DoorDash, among others.
“I know that you have to pay a percentage with these applications, but the investment is less than if they had a patio,” Romero said.
It has worked for Roberto González to use all the virtual platforms. He says that he has been working with them for a long time and that they have been a great help, because he has been able to cover operating expenses. “You have to pay between 20 and 33% commission, but in return they bring us clients that we wouldn’t have if we didn’t work with those platforms. So it is one of the options that people have ”.
“Many places are now doing their own home delivery and taking orders by phone to save the commission charged by these virtual platforms,” said Ambrocio González, owner of La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant in La Villita.
For this entrepreneur, these platforms have not been helpful because he considers that they charge an excessive commission, so he prefers that his business takes care of home delivery.
Ambrocio also said that he is considering putting up a tent with an electric heating system in his new yard.
Although the capacity limit for restaurants is now 40%, González says sales are low amid the pandemic. “People are taking a little bit of caution and saving.”
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