PLAINFIELD, IL — Restaurants across Will County may have been allowed to reopen indoor dining once again, but owners are afraid of continuing to serve at limited capacity once outdoor dining needs to be suspended as winter approaches. In order to keep businesses from getting affected financially, increasing indoor dining capacity might be the move, and many eateries, including a popular breakfast spot in Plainfield supports that.
Steve Fotos, owner of Southern Belle’s said due to indoor dining suspension, business “fell tremendously, sales dropped as would be expected from closing, it was the hardest for our staff.”
“Safety is obviously very important to all of the Southern Belle’s family, the shutdown although meant with all good intentions was a bit unfair to all the surrounding businesses,” he said about the mitigations Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposed on the county after positivity rates went up.
According to the Illinois Restaurant Association, pre-pandemic, the food service industry was the largest private sector employer in the state. Today, 55 percent of over 25,000 Illinois restaurant operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now, and 63 percent do not expect staffing to return to pre-COVID-19 levels within the next six months.
“The jobs of people who work in our state’s diverse restaurant industry are at stake, and continued closures will devastate the stability of our communities,” the IRA wrote in a social media post. “The hospitality industry is an economic engine for the state of Illinois. Our employees want and need a place to work.”
With that in mind, the organization had sent a letter — signed by 1,500 restaurants — to Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot, asking her administration to allow for 50 percent indoor dining capacity at restaurants and venues. Last week, Lightfoot increased the capacity to 40 percent.
Fotos said that if the same kind of letter had to be sent to local authorities, he would be in agreement with it.
“We support the increased seating decision, as long as we are all taking the necessary precautions,” he said. “If cases should rise again, businesses should not be shut down. A safer and productive alternative may be a continuous distanced dining experience, with more monitoring of proper sanitation and overall health and well-being.”
Even though he said business has picked up since Sept. 18 when the mitigations on Will County were lifted, “it has been an uphill journey.”
“We unfortunately had to let some staff members go in the beginning as we tried to figure something out,” Fotos said. “Rushing to change menus that were of a safer material to be able to be sanitized was a project in itself. Retraining our staff to clean, disinfect, and sanitize at every interaction with patrons was its own program. And converting to a take-out style store in the beginning months was another difficult transition.”
The eatery boasts a gorgeous patio where table are socially distanced and there has always been a structured sanitation program in place, “but with the pandemic we increased our efforts,” he said. All surfaces, especially common areas, such as door handles, tables and chairs are cleaned and sanitized after every use.
Fotos said the Plainfield community has been great at supporting Southern Belle’s throughout this whole pandemic.
“We would not be where we are without the support of all our great customers,” he said. “It’s great to be able to see empty dining rooms filled with families and friends enjoying breakfast.”
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