ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Local restaurant owners have mixed feelings about the return of indoor dining. While relaxed dining restrictions could mean Winnebago County is on the path to returning to normal, the other side of the coin shows a fraction of the business restaurant owners once saw.
“I don’t know what the right answer is, but it’s certainly a rollercoaster that we are all riding right now,” said Baker Street Burgers owner Betsy Baker. The entrepreneur says her business takes a hit every time dining guidelines are modified.
“It is hard, we scrambled a lot to get heaters to keep people happy outside,” she explained. “It’s hard on inventory, it’s hard on the staff to get through this uncertainty and it’s super confusing to the public.”
Just two weeks ago, Baker was forced to let go of the majority of her staff when indoor dining was axed across Region One of Illinois. Now, she can seat 25 customers inside at once, for 90 minute intervals, before cleaning the restaurant in time for the next block of reservation-only diners. While it’s a far cry from ideal, she says it is a step in the right direction.
“Scientists say this is what we have to do. So, if this is what we have to do, we’re doing it,” Baker added.
Just a stone’s throw away from the burger joint, Josh Binning owns Lucha Cantina— where indoor dining will not resume quite yet.
“In some ways it kind of felt we were undercut today. We’ve been working really hard to really make sure our staff is safe and our customers are safe,” said Binning. “I don’t like having to tell guests to leave the restaurant. I like them to be able to sit down, enjoy the evening with their family and friends they’ve gathered around a table with, so we’re going to wait until the timeframes get extended a little bit for a little more open seating. It’s going to be hard to have 75 people waiting in the hallway to be seated at one time, it’s kind of against what we’re supposed to be doing right now.”
The business owner is holding off on setting tables inside with the threat of state-mandated mitigations looming.
“We have no plans to do indoor dining right now, we’re going to kind of wait, give it some time, see what the governor is planning on doing, ” Binning added.
Both restaurant owners say their main concerns are keeping their customers safe, workers employed and a roof over their families heads. They are also thankful for customers’ outpouring of support throughout the year.