Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Outside dining is in

by Rob Ireland

May 24, 2012

Sitting under the shade of an umbrella, diners now can take in the view of Geneva Lake or downtown while enjoying a meal outside of the confines of a restaurant.

On May 1, Lake Geneva's sidewalk dining ordinance took effect allowing restaurants — after obtaining the proper permits — to seat people outdoors on the public sidewalk.

The restaurateurs who have taken advantage of the new ordinance are praising it as a positive change for the city.

Carrie Cumming, the general manager of Sopra, 724 W. Main St., said she thinks the change is a good one for her restaurant and the city.

"I think most people are taking advantage of it," Cumming said. "They are putting out nice furniture, it is good for the restaurant and it is good for the town."

Spyro "Speedo" Condos, owner of Harborside Cafe, 100 Broad St., said his customers are telling him they will return to Lake Geneva more frequently because of the change.

"I think it is giving the town a new look," he said. "It is a little bit of a European flair."

For many restaurateurs, sitting people at a table on the sidewalk seems like common sense, especially in a resort community.

However, in Lake Geneva outdoor and sidewalk dining was once a topic met with a lot of resistance.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan said it was "pretty prevalent" that elected officials were opposed to any outdoor dining, especially when he first came to Lake Geneva.

Jordan said the comment that was made was, "Who wants to eat while people are walking by?"

Condos, a former mayor, said he pushed for this change when he was in office, but was met with opposition from other elected officials.

"Those alderman, they didn't like to eat outside. That was their own personal view," Condos said.

However, the council has changed faces. More than five years ago Potbelly's became the first restaurant in the city allowed to have outdoor dining. Since then, about a dozen other restaurants have received conditional use permits for outdoor dining. Since the sidewalk dining ordinance took effect, four restaurants have been approved for it and another application is pending.

"I'm glad this city council has some forward thinkers," Condos said. He specifically mentioned former aldermen Tom Hartz and Terry O'Neill.

The owners of the restaurants who have received permits say it is long overdue in the city.

"I think it has been around Chicago and Milwaukee for so long I think most people just expect it," Cumming said.

Having people eating on the sidewalks, and the aromas of a food in the air, have also helped attract people to Sopra, Cumming said.

Randy Horch, owner of Scuttlebutts Restaurant, 831 Wrigley Drive, said the sidewalk dinning has been popular with his customers and beneficial to his bottom line.

"We have had a lot of great feedback and people really enjoy it, and for the most part, people are saying it's about time Lake Geneva did something like this," he said.

Tim Dory, the owner of Scoops, 101 Broad St., said his customers prefer enjoying their ice cream outside.

"They like sitting outside and now the inside is empty," Dory said.

Dory said having customers outside of the ice cream shop draws people inside.

"To me people like to go where it looks busy," he said. "If it looks like it is not busy, they think there is a reason you are not busy," Dory said.

Horch said if there was any drawback to the new ordinance it would be that the outdoor furniture has to be set up and brought in each night.

Condos said having people eating in the downtown helps all the local businesses, not just the restaurants.

"It keeps people in the downtown longer," Condos said. "They are putting more money in the parking meters and spending more at the downtown stores."

City Clerk Mike Hawes said he hasn't heard any complaints from residents about the sidewalk dining.

"All I've heard so far is that they have been really popular," Hawes said. "We are testing it out and see what problems come out and what issues come out."

After this year, Hawes said the city could review the ordinance and come out with more detailed policies, if needed.

Condos said he has had no problems with the ordinance rules, and no customers have attempted to move alcohol outside of the dining area.

Some of the conditions in the current ordinance include tables not be located within 2 feet of the curb line, fencing should be located at either end and along the street edge of the seating area and the restaurant applicant must meet all other existing requirements to be given a permit to place tables on the sidewalk.

Alcohol also can be served until 9 p.m., but there must be signs stating it is illegal to leave the dining area with a beverage.

So far, only four businesses have taken out permits for the sidewalk dining Harborside Cafe, Scuttlebutts Restaurant, Sopra and Scoops. Several other restaurants in the city have conditional use permits for outdoor dining including Gino's, Bistro 220, Potbelly's, Simple, Baker House, Tempura House, Sprecher's Restaurant and Grill, Egg Harbor, Tuscan Tavern and Grill, Roses Fresh Market.

Each applicant will pay $15 per seat and the permit is valid from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year. Tables, chairs and fencing will be removed daily. The permit "is a privilege and not a right" and may be revoked at any time for any reason at the sole discretion of the city.

Previous city ordinance restricted use of the sidewalks, but this addition is an exception to the ordinance. This cafe permit is only for restaurants.