Angela Liedl, Namrata Kadambi, Stephen Lee, and Henry Liedl enjoy a maskless dining experience at Cross-Rhodes Restaurant.

After months of covering their faces, Evanston diners might want to watch out for spinach and chia seeds once again. On June 11, Illinois officially entered Phase 5 of the State’s COVID recovery plan. Local restaurants are now free to operate at full capacity, and many of them will also be dispensing with mask mandates, at least for fully vaccinated customers. Although masking requirements have been looser since mid-May, the arrival of Phase 5 is a signal to many restaurant owners that it’s safe to update their policies.

“I had a sign in the window that said ‘face mask required,’ but I’m taking it down tonight,” says Maria Russell, owner of Cross-Rhodes Restaurant on Chicago Avenue. It’s a much welcome move forward.” The protective Plexiglas at the front of the restaurant is staying up for now and she anticipates her staff will continue to mask, but because they are all fully vaccinated, she is leaving the choice up to them. Cross-Rhodes will continue to request that unvaccinated customers stay masked.

A sign posted in the window of Blind Faith Cafe spells out the restaurant’s current masking policy.

“Even though businesses are no longer going to be required in any way to monitor or verify that someone has been vaccinated, it is strongly encouraged that they carefully consider what kind of masking policy they want to have,” says Dr. Rachel Rubin, Senior Medical Officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, speaking at the Illinois Restaurant Association webinar on June 10. Dr. Rubin emphasized that restaurants should not discourage patrons or employees from wearing masks if they choose to do so.

At Claire’s Korner, a favorite spot for Jamaican food in Evanston, there is no longer a masking requirement for customers. “If they want to come in without a mask, they can come in,” says owner Claire Bhalia. “We have to believe it if they say they’re vaccinated.” She says she and her staff will continue to mask.

Vaccine verification remains the elephant in the room, but most restaurant owners say they are unlikely to question their patrons’ status. David Lipschutz, owner of Evanston’s Blind Faith Café, says, “As of tomorrow we’ll stop requiring masks upon entering and leaving the restaurant, unless you’re unvaccinated, but that’s on the honor system. We’re certainly not going to check for vaccination cards.” Blind Faith employees will stay masked at least through the end of June, and then Mr. Lipschutz says they will reassess the policy.

As of June 1, approximately 85% of Evanston residents 12 years old and up had received at least one vaccine dose and 70% were fully vaccinated. For local restaurateurs eager to put normal back on the menu, that would seem a pretty palatable statistic.

Nancy McLaughlin

Nancy McLaughlin is an Evanston-based freelance writer who has a fascination for the everyday events that shape our community in extraordinary ways. She covers human interest stories for the RoundTable.