URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Restaurants are converting their indoor dining rooms to adapt to the COVID-19 safety regulations for businesses.

Summer is over and that means outdoor seating will soon no longer be an option during the pandemic. As restaurants make changes inside, there are more costs involved to stay compliant with state safety rules.

As the temperature drops, restaurants are turning on outdoor heaters for customers who decide to brave the cold. But as businesses begin to close their patio seating and convert to indoor service only, restaurant patron Joe Meeker says he doesn’t think he’ll go inside to eat during winter. “Restaurants are doing a really good job trying to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 but it’s still a little scary.”

For those who do choose to eat indoors, restaurants are preparing to keep them safe during the pandemic. Allen Strong, the owner of Courier Cafe in Urbana, has made several adjustments to the indoor dining space. He says, “I installed plexiglass barriers between the booths to create ‘COVID free zones’ so to speak. We installed double HEPA filters so we have four HEPA filtration systems, and the ventilation system runs constantly to keep air moving through.” Similarly, Farren’s Pub and Eatery in Champaign installed a UV filtration system inside after closing their outdoor seating. 

All these added safety measures have come at a steep price for restaurant owners. Strong says, “Our costs have gone up and our sales have gone down. That’s not a formula for success and that just doesn’t work. We’re just trying to get through it.”

Prior to preparing for the winter months, the summer brought its own financial challenges during the pandemic. Courier Cafe set up a tent and converted the parking lot into an outside dining space for the warmer months. That cost them about $5,000 per month to keep up. 

Strong says he hopes these adjustments will make customers feel more comfortable coming inside to eat. “Whether or not all these measures turn out to be what they’re supposed to be, I don’t know. But my point right now is to do whatever we can do to make our guests feel safe.”