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Illinois restaurants prepare for indoor dining in Phase 4

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SPRINGFIELD (WEEK) - Illinois is just days away from reopening restaurants and bars for indoor service, a move that many people are excited about . Now, owners have to act quickly to prepare a safe, clean eating environment for this weekend. State officials want employees to wear face coverings and gloves, and every establishment will need to be cleaned more frequently.

What is the biggest change for customers? Wearing a face covering until you get to a table inside. The Illinois Restaurant Association says customers need to put coverings on if they walk to bathrooms or other spaces.

"The intentions are to keep everybody safe," said Mark Forinash. "If we get sick, if your customers get sick, or restaurants make people sick - our gathering places - it doesn't do us a whole lot of good."

Forinash opened Cafe Moxo in Springfield almost 14 years ago. His dining room allows for extra space in between tables, but staff will use extra caution when customers return indoors. The IRA says most restaurants will be limited to about 60% capacity with tables spaced six feet apart.

"We're ready for America 2.0," said IRA President Sam Toia. "We never saw us being in shelter-in-place for 12 to 13 weeks like we have been, but hopefully we did it right like some of the states might not have done it right."

America 2.0

It won't be an easy ride back to reality for many owners. Toia says there were 594,000 people working in the restaurant industry at the start of 2020. 321,000 of those employees are either on unemployment or furloughed. The National Restaurant Association predicts 20-25% of restaurants won't be able to reopen.

"There were 25,000 restaurants here in the state of Illinois at the beginning of the year, and we were projected to do $30 billion in sales. Obviously, last month we lost $600 million in sales from restaurants," Toia explained.

Forinash also lost about 70% of his staff in late March. He's been able to bring most of those employees back. However, the restaurateur knows that won't be possible for other restaurants. "It's gonna be a very sad day when we see some of our colleagues, some of our partners in crime, struggle. There's not one person in the restaurant industry that just wants to make money," Forinash said.

Both men are excited to see people back in restaurants, but they understand some may be cautious to dine inside with larger crowds. "We know people are looking forward to getting back out and enjoying a good meal. Restaurants are the soul of every neighborhood here throughout the state of Illinois," Toia added.

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Mike Miletich

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