Restaurants start making plans for outdoor seating after governor’s announcement


URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The news of the outdoor seating allowance came as a welcomed surprise for restaurant owners. Some said it is a small win for them during this pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has stretched on for months, putting businesses in a tight bind financially. The governor has now loosened restrictions in the executive order by allowing restaurants to have outdoor seating. “I’m not sure how we’ll go about it but we’ll take advantage of anything we can. We’ll put out tables wherever I can and hope for the best weather. That’s all we can hope for,” said Jim Flanigam, co-owner of the Apple Dumplin’ in Urbana. It will be an adjustment for some businesses like theirs.

“The thing is, we’re going to have to prepare. Number one, I don’t have outdoor seating. I never have,” said Flanigam. They, like many other places, will now have to buy or rent tables and chairs and clear a space outside to set up. That is an extra expense they will have to cover, along with maintaining health safety guidelines. “We’ll definitely have to have six feet of separation between tables and sanitizing every time someone leaves.” Outdoor seating is something many restaurant owners considered prior to the governor’s latest announcement.

The owners of the Apple Dumplin’ restaurant tried to open up outdoor seating a couple weeks ago. But that was quickly shut down by the health department “I was told, ‘Absolutely not.’ That they were not to consume food on the premises. Period.” In nine days, that will be allowed, getting restaurant owners one step closer to business as usual. “It’s a win for small businesses today with many more to go,” said Flanigam.

We called several other restaurants in central Illinois to get their take on this. Since this announcement is so new, many are still organizing their plan to open outdoor seating.

The mayors of cities like Urbana, Champaign, Danville and Monticello said they are waiting for more specific guidelines from the governor on this as they continue to balance supporting businesses while protecting public safety. “We have been working internally on a plan to allow for outdoor seating options. It is not yet complete,” said Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen. “Clearly with the change in guidelines today we have moved this up in our work plan and we will be providing information to the businesses, public…as quickly as possible once things are finalized.” Officials with the City of Decatur said they are planning a special meeting on May 26 to discuss how they will proceed as well.

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