Client Alert

Chicago Restaurants in the Age of COVID-19: A New Frontier

June 10, 2020

Chicago Restaurants in the Age of COVID-19: A New Frontier

Jun 10, 2020

On May 5, 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker released “Restore Illinois”, a 5-step public health plan for re-opening Illinois (the “Plan”).  The Plan clearly is of considerable interest to our restaurant and hospitality clients who want to know when, how, and under what circumstances they will be able to re-open, and what that process will look like.


As of the date of this blog post, the State of Illinois has moved to “Phase 3” of the Plan.  During Phase 3, bars and restaurants can resume operations for outdoor seating only.  This includes seating areas that are fully outdoors, in addition to:

  • rooftops;
  • rooms with retractable roofs; and
  • indoor spaces where fifty percent (50%) or more of a wall can be removed via the opening of windows, doors, or panels, provided that dining tables are within eight (8) feet from such openings.
outdoor seating sneeze guard 500
Image Source – Shutterstock


Restaurants that wish to provide outdoor dining must apply for a Retail Food Establishment or Sidewalk Cafe license from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP). Applicants can find those here or they can contact customer service here for more information.

If street closure is required, applications must be submitted by Chambers of Commerce, SSAs, Business Associations or by three (3) or more establishments applying together. A single restaurant can apply individually to operate on private property (e.g., parking lots). Questions about this permit can be submitted to the city here.


The City of Chicago also is expecting all restaurants to adhere to extensive public health guidelines, including:

  • tables must be spaced six (6) feet apart;
  • dining must be limited to no more than six (6) people per table;
  • gatherings must be limited to no more than ten (10) individuals; and
  • protective gear must be worn by employees and guests (face coverings can be removed while customers are seated and eating)

The City of Chicago also has released extensive outdoor dining guidelines (beyond the above) which are generally coterminous with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines released in May 2020 for restaurants. For more information please see the City’s FAQ.


temperature scan 500
Image Source – Shutterstock

Clearly, Chicago’s restaurant scene will look and operate differently from how it ever has in the months to come.  And, with reduced capacity for the foreseeable short- and intermediate-term future, restaurants will almost assuredly be less profitable.  In the coming months, restaurants also will likely embrace more technology in order to facilitate ordering, delivery, and the table-waiting process.  There are many indications that the industry is becoming much more technology-focused, including the use of UV light technology, automats, and temperature scanners.  This is in addition to greatly expanded use of delivery technologies such as DoorDash, Caviar, and Uber Eats.

We are already seeing many retailers implement plexiglass, sneezeguards, and greater automation technologies, and those developments likely will be embraced by the restaurant industry as it moves closer to opening generally to the public.  Furthermore, to the extent that those practices become industry standard, restaurants may face liability from customers if they do not adopt such technologies – regardless of whether the municipal or state government mandates their use.

These are hardly the only changes restaurants will implement. We will be updating this blog throughout the re-opening of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois to apprise our owner and operator clients of further legal and industry developments.  We are here to help our clients throughout this process and we invite your calls and emails. Please contact Larry Swibel or Scott Schonfeld regarding any questions relating to these matters.

This article contains material of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.  Under applicable rules of professional conduct, this content may be regarded as attorney advertising.


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