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Using parking spaces for table space: Restaurants prepare for Phase 3

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MARION (WSIL) -- Local restaurants are getting ready for Phase 3 of the state's "Restore Illinois" plan.

John Hill, owner of Bennie's Italian Foods, says restricted cash flow during the COVID-19 pandemic has local restaurants ready to pull out all the stops to safely feed their customers.

"We're gonna do it by the book. We're gonna be as safe as we can. If we gotta wear masks, gloves, a surgical suit, whatever you need, we're gonna do it."

Carrie Eldridge, Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department, says while they want to educate businesses and encourage them to follow updated state guidelines, these guidelines may not immediately be part of routine health inspections.

"Our health inspectors will go out and inspect the restaurants on their normal day-to-day basis, there won't be a special inspection, if you will."

She says that may change in the future.

"Inspectors could make sure that their restaurants are following those guidelines, but we're really waiting to see what the governor has in store for us the 29th of May."

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says, for regions transitioning to Phase 3 on May 29, businesses should serve parties of 6 persons or fewer in an outdoor dining space, in addition to following proper cleaning, educational, and PPE related guidelines.

"We practice safety all the time anyway. Everybody washes their hands. We sanitize everything, we sanitize our dishes, we sanitize our tables, and everything else, so it's not gonna be a great change for us," says Hill.

Hill says to take advantage of the new guidelines he'll be trading parking spaces for table space.

"We're gonna do a little outside dining. You can order and come out here. We're going to have some picnic tables outside and see if we have people that want to dine outside just to get out."

And to thank his loyal customers, he's going to try to mimic the original Bennie's dining experience.

"But when we figure out what we've got, and how it's all going to work out, we're gonna do some things. We're gonna have some live music out here, and we're gonna make it fun, and we're gonna do the best we can for us and the community both."

Hill says after 36 years in the business, he'll try anything to keep his doors open to serve his customers.

John Ross

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