Restaurants See Gradual Progress with Reduced Restrictions

Restaurants See Gradual Progress with Reduced Restrictions

After weeks of strict COVID mitigation measures, local businesses received very welcome news in February. Improvements in suburban health metrics allowed businesses to move back to Phase 4 standards; as of February 16, restaurants were allowed to host indoor dining for up to 50 guests or 40 percent of room capacity, whichever is less.

However, change is coming slowly as businesses face a combination of tough winter weather and continued trepidation on the part of some customers. Many restaurants continue to emphasize curbside pickup options, while also assuring guests that their dining rooms are meeting all safety guidelines.

Brian Lee, Northbrook Court General Manager, has seen an increase in visitors, especially with the reopening of the AMC movie theaters. “We are thrilled to see things moving in the right direction!” says Brian. “It is great to see people coming out and enjoying the movies (with appropriate distancing and increased sanitation protocols).  We are also happy to see people enjoying Northbrook Court’s dine-in restaurants.”  As Brian notes, DiPescara has different options for seating including their main dining room, a heated tent, and “indoor patio” dining in the mall atrium.

Marcello’s Restaurant is also taking advantage of extra space, using its banquet room as overflow seating to allow plentiful social distancing.  “Since we’ve moved into Phase 4, we are getting a good response with patrons dining-in with us,” responds Catering Sales Manager Mike Seymour. “There have been those that still prefer the curbside service, but we know that in time they’ll be ready to dine-in.”  Mike also notes that catering inquiries are coming in, as people are planning special events as early as this spring.

Smaller restaurants are also optimistic that the new rules will bring customers back indoors. Charlie Beinlich’s recently expanded their hours of business. “We are seeing more and more customers dining-in each day,” says manager Linda Rainey. “Our place is small and everyone seems to love how spread out everything is and that the staff is adhering to the COVID rules.”

Similarly, Northbrook Dairy Queen is taking extra steps to give customers confidence. Post-it notes indicate tables that have been sanitized; motion-controlled hand sanitizers are conveniently placed around the dining room, which is frequently disinfected throughout the day. “We know it will be slow going for the general public to feel safe,” acknowledges owner Jennifer Spencer. “I am thankful that our industry has always taught us to maintain a very clean and safe environment… that has helped us with adapting to the pandemic.”

At Trattoria Oliverii, “we are definitely seeing that people are still sticking with mainly carryout, although we have had a few diners inside,” reports owner Ali Clark.  In addition to robust safety protocols, the restaurant attracted guests with a special Mardi Gras celebration which Clark intends to make an annual tradition.

Some other restaurants continue to see a customer preference for carryout and are adapting to keep that option appealing and accessible.  Culver’s has introduced a new online ordering platform that allows customers to skip the drive through line.  “The guest can order, pay and arrive at their convenience,” explains owner Kevin Weasler. “When they arrive, they press “I’m here” on their phone and we run the order out to them.  They never have to leave their car or wait.”

On top of COVID uncertainties, the extreme winter weather has also slowed down the return to indoor dining.  Arnie Krause, owner of The Claim Company, notes that the Phase 4 announcement was followed by multiple snowstorms and a stretch of severely cold days. “I do expect to see improvement as the weather breaks, “says Arnie. “People are accustomed to ordering out and the weather reinforces that behavior.  My fingers and toes are crossed but it’s going to take time.”

All local restaurants continue to need and appreciate their customers’ support. Remember to look for Takeout Tuesday specials and other offers from the Live Shop Dine Northbrook Mobile Text Program; text NBK to 55678 to sign up for this free service.