The Illinois Restaurant Association ( IRA ) is urging Gov. JB Pritzker to reconsider the timing provisions outlined in the Restore Illinois plan he recently presented.
President and CEO Sam Toia said in a statement on behalf of the association, in part:
"On behalf of the 25,000+ eating and drinking establishments across the State of Illinois, we are deeply concerned about the provisions of the Restore Illinois plan that prohibit all restaurants from resuming dine-in service at any level until, at best, the end of June. This delay is excessive even by the most conservative national guidelines, does not take into account our industry's pre-existing expertise in health and safety practices, and unnecessarily threatens the viability of a critical sector of our state economy.
"The restaurant industry is accustomed to operating by the highest of standards when it comes to sanitation, food safety and other health-focused requirements. Managers, chefs, servers and bartenders must complete mandatory certification courses that equip them with the knowledge and best practices designed to protect the health and wellbeing of their customers on a daily, even minute-to-minute, basis.
"During the COVID-19 crisis, restaurants pivoting to carry-out and delivery adapted at unparalleled speed and introduced necessary equipment and enhanced procedures. Compared to business segments that have been inactive since mid-March, our industry has been in a place of continued leadership. This reliability merits an earlier re-introduction to the state's economy.
"Exact requirements for restaurants resuming dine-in service have not yet been established. As we set our sights on reopening dining rooms, our already health-focused industry is eager to implement clear guidelines around safe reengagement, including limiting capacity, table spacing, PPE for employees and other preventative measures.
"We are anxious to share our sanitation and food handling expertise with the governor's team to assist the State in developing pragmatic regulations that will prioritize public health while giving restaurants the opportunity to safely resume dine-in operations in a timely manner.
"Restore Illinois' consecutive 28-day monitoring periods from Phase 2 to 3 and then again from Phase 3 to 4 do not take the health-focused nature of our industry, nor the prevailing scientific and medical community expertise, into consideration. This time frame is double the national standard recommended by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said that a 14-day period between reopening phases provides 'continuity that is safe, that is prudent, and that is careful.'
"On March 1, the restaurant industry provided 594,900 jobs, ten percent of Illinois' employment. As of mid-April, 321,000 of those employees had been laid off or furloughed as a result of COVID-19. Fifty five percent of operators have temporarily closed their businesses and sales are down approximately 80 percent across the board. The statewide restaurant industry losses currently exceed $2 billion. With twenty percent of establishments expected to shutter permanently as a result of this pandemic, an additional seven weeks ( or more ) of closure will worsen an already grave statistic and squander the very talent that is most equipped for consumer interaction.
"For many food and beverage operations in Illinois, being able to conduct business in Phase 3 versus Phase 4 will be the difference between a chance for a comeback or closing their doors for good."