Three years ago, this Prairie Table column debuted in Illinois Country Living (ICL) magazine to highlight great places to eat in rural Illinois. To date, 36 restaurants have been featured in this section, and we have never taken a break from doing that since January 2018. But we are pausing now. Restaurants across Illinois are in trouble and they need your help.
COVID-19 has officially been on this earth for more than a year with more than 830,000 confirmed cases and more than 14,000 confirmed deaths in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. While writing this in December 2020, restaurants are in the middle of the second shut down for indoor dining by the state of Illinois to help stop the spread of the virus.
It has been a tough year for restaurants, and they are hurting more than ever. In an early December CNN Business report, the National Restaurant Association stated 110,000 restaurants permanently shuttered in the U.S. in 2020, with 10,000 of those having closed during the previous three months. Three of those restaurants to have closed in 2020 have been featured in these pages of ICL.
Supporting locally owned and operated restaurants and businesses keep the local economy strong. Here are a few ways to help support your favorite restaurants.
- Order food. While eating at restaurants is part of the experience, dining in isn’t necessary. Order carry out, curbside or delivery from your favorite eateries. If there are delivery services in your area, many offer “no contact” delivery.
- Buy gift cards/gift certificates. While the holidays might be over, it isn’t too late to buy a loved one a gift card or gift certificate to use in the future. It is easy money for the restaurant now that can be used later when things turn around.
- Purchase merch. While you may not want to eat out all the time, you don’t always have to buy food from restaurants. From T-shirts and sweatshirts to tote bags and coffee mugs, many restaurants sell merchandise with their logo emblazoned on them. If you wear that cozy sweatshirt around with your favorite cafe’s logo on it, you’re like a walking billboard.
- Write positive reviews. You don’t have to spend money to support your favorite eateries. Go online and write a review on Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor or Google My Business, for example. Many people find it easier to focus on the negatives in a review, so flood the internet with positivity about your best-loved places.
- Like, share and post. Social media is a great way to show support for your favorite restaurants. “Like” their pages and share their posts. Utilize social media to recommend your favorites to your family and friends. Some of the best advertising for businesses is word of mouth. You can also “check in” on Facebook if you’re grabbing a meal from a local joint.
- Try something new. If there’s a local place you’ve never tried before, it may become your new favorite. If you’re traveling, search for a local place ahead of time. While it is easy to go to a known chain, you never know what cuisine you’ll discover.
- Leave a tip. Don’t forget to tip the restaurant employees and delivery drivers.
- Ask. You may not know the best way to show support of a local business unless you ask. While the answer to your question may be listed here, you may get a response that could surprise you.
Doing the best you can to help stop the spread of COVID-19 will help reopen Illinois faster. Wearing face masks and social distancing is a small price to pay when local businesses are being forced to shut down and events are being canceled.
During these past few years, this section in ICL has featured a variety of restaurants from coffee shops to bars, from fast food to fine dining, from Italian to Mexican, from restaurants open only a few years to ones open for decades. Please do what you can to help the local restaurants in your community. We look forward to highlighting restaurants for years to come.