As winter nears, struggling restaurants in Chicago are taking new measures to lure back customers who feel uneasy about returning for indoor dining.
At Formento's, an Italian restaurant in the West Loop neighborhood, owners have invested thousands of dollars into new technology they hope will make diners feel safer.
"We’re really adjusting our strategies to encourage people to know it is safe," Phillip Walters, an owner and partner at B Hospitality Co., said. "Life will go on, and the world has several unfortunate epidemics that it’s still living with. I think all of us need to refocus on getting back to a normal, as opposed to a new normal."
Guests will now have the option to use a personal air filter at the table.
"It supposedly scrubs about 250 square feet around the space," said Walters.
It’s one of multiple air quality upgrades as part of the restaurant group's $15,000 investment project, which also includes The Bristol in Bucktown.
The group has also purchased ultraviolet lamps to sterilize tables and glassware at the bar, along with coats and bags at the hostess stand. The sterilizing lamps come in addition to installing new air filters in the HVAC system, approved by ASHRAE and the CDC.
Diners will likely notice what the group calls “air cookers” to recirculate clean air throughout the restaurant.
All guests and staff also have their temperatures checked before going inside.
Walters said he hopes the upgrades bring peace of mind to diners.
“These are all capital investments. We believe in it for our guests just as much for our employees,” he said. “You’re probably safer dining in restaurants than you are in your own home. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the regulations, the rules, the policies, the training we all have to go through from sanitation, puts us in a position to really look after the guests concerns and their safety.”
According to new guidance from the City of Chicago, restaurants can now increase minimum indoor capacity to 40% or 50 people, while maintaining proper distance. Customers must wear face coverings while seated at all times.