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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
june 2017

Time to Hit The Patio: Tips for Al Fresco Dining


No one takes advantage of summer weather better than diners in Illinois. As the season heats up, everyone is looking to eat and drink at their favorite patios, rooftops, and al fresco dining spots. A patio can be a substantial revenue source that breathes new life into a restaurant and its bottom line. Whether there is seating for ten or 100, outdoor space offers a unique experience for guests that keep them coming back year-round.


Here are a few tips to maximize the customer outdoor dining experience. 


Utilizing Space

Outdoor dining can be just about anywhere - on porches, decks, rooftops, parking lots, and stretches of public sidewalk space. Consider creating a refuge with a backyard garden or festive beer garden. At The Fifty/50 Group's Homestead on the Roof, guests can literally watch their food grow with surroundings that include a massive organic rooftop garden filled with vegetables, fruits, and herbs used by the restaurant.


A scenic location might offer stunning views of a waterfront or skyline, but outdoor dining doesn’t have to only include picturesque views. It can offer solace from busy life too. Obed and Isaac's in Springfield has a backyard patio that acts as a downtown playground, featuring an outdoor bar, two bocce courts, four bean bag game sets, fire pits, and a K9 Social Club for dogs.



As a restaurateur, the last thing one needs is for customers to get up and leave because the outdoor dining space is too hot or too cold. Invest in weather resistant umbrellas or large patio coverings/awnings that keep out the sun, heat and rain. To make guests feel extra comfortable and warm, invest in outdoor patio heaters. To keep customers cool during hot months, install gentle water misters in the patio area.



A well-designed outdoor area can breathe new life into a restaurant and give it a fresh, updated look. However, designing an outdoor space takes careful planning. A restaurant can't simply pack seats in an outdoor space and call it a day. Comfortably space out tables and chairs. Make sure to keep the safety of guests in mind. In order to prevent injury, eliminate any potential outdoor hazards.


Just like the dining room, patios should be updated every five to seven years to stay modern. The goal is to develop an outdoor dining space design to complement not only the interior décor, but also align with the brand. For example, if the interior has warm, rich and substantial wood pieces, placing delicate white tables in the outdoor space is not advised. The tasteful sidewalk patio at the The Gage perfectly compliments the facade of its historic building on Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park. 



Patios aren’t just for summer. With heat lamps, cozy blankets and fireplaces or fire pits, restaurants can capitalize on additional seating any time of the year. If outdoor patio space isn’t already heated, then money is being left on the table by relying on warm weather to keep it open. One Off Hospitality's Big Star in Wicker Park takes full advantage of their outdoor space in winter months with an enclosed outdoor patio that holds a lively crowd year-round - and reduces wait times. 


Adding a patio is a win-win – guests will love dining al fresco, and increasing the restaurant footprint is a great way to add more revenue and gross profit.

Flavor Profile

Kathleen Wood, Owner, Suzy's Swirl


This month, we sat down with Kathleen Wood, Owner of Suzy's Swirl, a family-owned and operated business in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago swirling high quality and craveable yogurts, sorbettos, gelatos and Italian ices with unlimited toppings and amazing sauces.


Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?  


My career journey started in the dish room and has run through an untold number of kitchens, dining, meeting, and board rooms around the world. On my first day in operations as a teenager, I immediately fell in love with the industry. I have been fortunate to have an operational career path that took me from the dish room to the President and COO of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.

I also had great experiences working for the Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association and TGI Friday’s Airport Development, as well as serving on boards of the Women’s Foodservice Forum, the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainer and the Roundtable for Women in Foodservice.

I realized over 20 years ago that my passion was building businesses. That's when I started my consulting practice, cleverly named Kathleen Wood Partners. Today, we consult with founder- and entrepreneur-led businesses all over the world, specifically on strategic growth, brand optimization, and leadership development.

I believe you are always an operator, so in 2012, my sister Sue, my niece Jen, and I opened our first operation – Suzy’s Swirl in Gurnee and our second location in Lake Bluff. It is so rewarding to build a business with your family. Sue and Jen do an amazing job leading our businesses, teams, and operations.

Today, I am grateful to consult with entrepreneurs and founders on the growth of their businesses and with my family in the development of Suzy’s Swirl. It truly is the best of all worlds!


To what to you attribute your success?

Believing in the American Dream – that anyone at anytime can achieve their American Dream. No one achieves success on their own, so learning to ask for help has been a big factor in my success.

What is the most exciting thing about frozen desserts?

Frozen desserts first and foremost are the ultimate in delivering frozen happiness! What is most exciting about it is the continual evolution of flavors, ingredients and product innovation. At Suzy’s Swirl we have vegan, all-natural, coconut milk options in addition to traditional custards, ice creams, and yogurts. Plus, we have access to so many craveable flavors from Maple Bacon Bourbon to Old Fashion Chocolate!

What is your biggest reward working in the restaurant industry?

We have a saying at Suzy’s – make the first job the right job. The biggest reward is truly watching the growth and development of people. Whether they stay or leave the industry, they have grown because they have been it.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

I am looking forward to new areas of expansion for Suzy’s Swirl. We currently have a new line of delicious hand-held sandwiches made with fresh-baked cookies and waffles filled with delicious frozen flavors. We continue to expand our catering service by partnering with great operators. We are always looking for unique venues to expand our footprint or pop up in too!

What do you see as the valuable resources/services that the IRA provides you?

The IRA has so many resources that have been valuable in my consulting practice and Suzy’s Swirl. The IRA’s tireless efforts on advocacy are so critical for all of our success. The IRA's networking events to meet and connect with other industry professionals are great, too. And of course all of the educational programs for our team are hugely beneficial.  


Any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?

Fail forward magnificently – it is better to go down swinging than to stand there holding a bat. Failing is required reading in the book of success!


Suzy's Swirl

703 W. Rockland Road

Lake Bluff, IL 60044

On Facebook @SuzysSwirl



Cook County Soda Tax Blocked, On Hold Until July 12


A Cook County judge has blocked the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax set to take effect on Saturday, July 1. The judge's temporary block will run at least until July 12.

What This Means
Retailers do not need to comply with the Sweetened Beverage Tax on July 1. The tax does not need to be included in the sale price of soda and sugar sweetened beverages.

What Happens Next
While the court's ruling has temporarily halted the implementation of the tax until at least July 12, it is unknown at this time if the tax will be stopped indefinitely. Cook County will appeal the judge's ruling in the coming weeks.

What You Can Do
Sign up and stay engaged with the Can the Tax Coalition for the latest developments. The IRA is a proud member of the coalition, and we will continue to work with our industry partners to halt this regressive tax.

Read more at Chicago Tribune and DNAInfo Chicago. Contact Matt Quinn at (312) 380-4122 or with any comments or questions.



Exclusive IRA Member Benefits from UnitedHealthcare


Because health care is a top concern for businesses like yours, the IRA and National Restaurant Association work with UnitedHealthcare to provide easier access to health care coverage and related products and services.

UnitedHealthcare, the IRA, and NRA offer an exclusive program to members, featuring:

  • Up to a 5 percent discount on medical rates for fully insured groups with 51 or more eligible employees
  • Annual invoice credit of up to 5 percent on administrative fees for new ASO medical products for self-funded groups with 100 or more eligible employees
  • Up to a 5 percent discount on specialty benefits products (dental, vision, life and disability) for fully insured groups – in addition to all other discounts including bundling benefits programs
  • Wellness programs and services aimed at helping people live healthier lives Latino Health Solutions resources and tools for Latino/Hispanic owners, operators and employees through UnitedHealthcare’s PlanBien® program

The NRA and IRA chose to work with UnitedHealthcare because of its wide range of innovative products and services to address the diverse health care needs of hospitality industry employers, employees and their families.

UnitedHealthcare offers access to its expansive network of health care providers and services, online tools, and a range of wellness programs. In addition, voluntary benefit programs are available for dental, vision, life and disability insurance products.

This UnitedHealthcare alliance program is designed exclusively for the hospitality industry to meet your health and wellness needs. Interested in learning more? Contact IRA Board Member Clinton Wolf at (773) 573-4163 or or visit to learn more.

Some restrictions apply; and discounts may vary by location and group size. Insurance coverage provided by or through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or its affiliates. Administrative services provided by United HealthCare Services, Inc. or their affiliates. Health Plan coverage provided by or through a UnitedHealthcare company.


The Cheezborger Known Around the World


Summer has officially started, and there’s no better way to kick off the season than with a legendary burger from Billy Goat Tavern!

Whether you stop in to one of our nine locations throughout Chicagoland, or bring home a box of Billy Goat Burgers from your local Jewel-Osco, you can’t beat a Cheezborger on a warm summer day.

The Fourth of July is just around the corner. You’ll be chillin’ with your friends in the backyard. One of you will tell a story about the great time you had at Billy Goat Tavern last year when the Cubs won the World Series. Then someone will talk about how awesome the food was. And finally another will say how they wished they had a burger right now. As the perfect host, you swoop in with a box of Billy Goat Curse Breakers to throw on the grill. Best. Fourth. Ever.

Don’t forget to check out Billy Goat at the 37th Annual Taste of Chicago on July 5-9 in Grant Park. Admission is free and festival hours are 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For complete details, visit

Visit Billy Goat Tavern online at


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