The dining room and bar at Found Kitchen.

Evanston restaurant owner Amy Morton is a few steps ahead of both Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle. On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot ordered that proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for indoor dining in that city, effective Jan. 3.

Then, on Thursday, County Board President Preckwinkle announced the same thing for the Cook County suburbs.

Because Evanston has its own health department, it is not covered by the county regulation. Here, the city Health Department decides next week what, if any, new rules to impose.

But whatever Evanston city leaders do, restaurant owner Morton is already requiring her customers to either prove they are COVID-vaccinated or show a negative COVID test to dine at her Found Kitchen, on Chicago Avenue.

And she’s been doing so since early November.

“People are so happy” with the policy, Morton says.

In fact, Morton notes, she heard from one patron “who has not been out since the pandemic began, but is coming to Found because she feels safe there.”

The dining room at The Barn Steakhouse.

Morton also plans to require customer proof of vaccination or a negative test at her Barn Steakhouse starting Jan. 3, whether Evanston mandates it or not. COVID shots are required for the staff at both of Morton’s Evanston restaurants.

Morton says the Barn is 100% booked for New Year’s Eve, and Found also has a good percentage already reserved. She’s not certain, however, if customers may cancel as COVID cases grow community-wide.

Pat Fowler, at the Firehouse Grill, has already seen some groups back out of holiday parties.

“For sure,” Fowler says. The number of scheduled events “got much lower” as virus cases have been increasing.

If Evanston does require proof of vaccination, Fowler says, it would be “just another operational hurdle” for the hospitality industry, which has faced multiple challenges since COVID hit in March 2020.

He says sometimes, “the cooperation of guests” is not always there when rules have to be imposed, and he hopes if a new rule comes, guests will be understanding with the staff.

“It’s all about keeping people safe,” Fowler adds.

Fowler would also like to see an app developed, as has been done in New York City, where a customer uploads photos of a COVID vaccination card along with proof of identification such as a driver’s license.

“That would be so much easier,” he says, for a restaurant to check people for proof-of-vax, while “speeding up the process” of getting hungry diners to their tables.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.