CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The head of an industry group predicts thousands of restaurants in Illinois will close because of COVID-19.
The coronavirus has “absolutely devastated” the industry, said Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia.
In a virtual speech to the City Club of Chicago, he estimated 321,000 restaurant workers have been laid off or furloughed in the state, accounting for 54 percent of its total workforce.
The situation was made worse by recent looting downtown that left some eateries with shattered windows and stolen goods.
As cold weather approaches, Toia said owners and government leaders must be creative, innovative, and flexible so restaurants can continue to offer outdoor dining.
"We are talking about having tents, heaters, having streets closed, having bubbles where you can put tables inside the bubbles, expanding the footprints like I said, kinda like what they do in northern European cities," he said.
Toia said Chicago must work to reduce COVID-19 cases, so restaurant occupancy rates can increase. He encouraged the public to keep wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
“We need to get to a place in Chicago — similar to the state of Illinois — where occupancy is determined by social distancing and six feet between tables, not just 25 percent. But, we have work to do collectively to get these COVID numbers back down and build on the reopening progress.”
Sales have dropped at restaurants by as much as 80 percent this year compared to last, Toia said, adding that 86 percent of restaurant operators say they are “unlikely” to turn a profit within the next six months.
Toia said at least 20 percent of Illinois’ 24,000 restaurants “will never reopen"; that, he said, will be over 5,000 restaurants.