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Newly announced COVID restrictions spark confusion in the restaurant industry

Posted at 7:13 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 20:38:58-05

(WXYZ) — From enclosed geodesic domes, to street parking tents, to covered patios and expensive heating systems, restaurants have been preparing for winter and investing thousands to do it.

Initially the goal was to be able to serve more guests, now restaurants may be relying on these outdoor spaces just to stay open.

"Our goal was to bring the inside ambiance, outside. We want you to still feel that you are part of the restaurant, not that we just put it up because of the pandemic going on," says Blake George, partner at Adachi in Birmingham, where they purposely hang the tent walls low to allow air flow from above. They invested in heaters with massive capacity and a lot of style. They thoroughly sanitize tables, chairs and other touch points and are bringing in fans to circulate air even more.

Adachi has also elevated their take-out menu and upgraded their packaging to make take-home meals feel special, using luxury bento boxes for take out orders.

"We need families to be supported and that’s our main goal," George said.

As case numbers rise and holiday’s quickly approach, Adachi’s team felt confident they were ready to serve people safely, and at a return on their investment. However, since Sunday’s order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that indoor dining must stop, the future of outdoor structures is uncertain.

"We made the executive decision to invest in the tent long term, we weren’t expecting what’s happening now to happen again," George said.

We reached out to MDHHS for clarification on the outdoor structures. They responded saying: "Outdoor dining at a food service establishment is permitted. Additionally, a single household may dine inside an igloo, hut, or other small, enclosed space without violating the order, provided that employees enter fleetingly or not at all."

This is good news, but still restaurants are going to be very limited in capacity.

Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President & CEO Justin Winslow expressed disappointment and frustration in a statement: “We are profoundly disappointed by his decision to shutter restaurants for a second time this year – this time with no safety net of federal stimulus dollars to soften the blow to already ailing operators and employees. While this decision will absolutely lead to a catastrophic economic fallout, the human toll on restaurant owners and their employees will be dramatically worse than what Director Gordon is attempting to mitigate through this Order.

We recognize that there are no easy decisions right now and so we have an appreciation of the challenge before Director Gordon and all Michiganders as we continue our fight against COVID-19. That said, we are profoundly disappointed by his decision to shutter restaurants for a second time this year – this time with no safety net of federal stimulus dollars to soften the blow to already ailing operators and employees. While this decision will absolutely lead to a catastrophic economic fallout, the human toll on restaurant owners and their employees will be dramatically worse than what Director Gordon is attempting to mitigate through this Order based upon the department’s own transmission data.

We were hopeful that eight months into this pandemic that we could collectively recognize that there is an inherent and insatiable desire for humans to congregate, often over food. Shutting down dine-in service removes the ability to accommodate that natural human desire in a highly regulated, sanitized, capacity-limited and appropriately spaced setting in a restaurant. Instead, it will drive that behavior to innumerable residential social gatherings over the holidays, which have already proven to be super-spreader environments."

More facts on COVID and the restaurant industry:
The COVID-19 Outbreak Investigation data tracked by the Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) attributes approximately 4.4% of all outbreaks to restaurants statewide. Despite serving millions of Michiganders each day, there are a total of five investigations statewide involving a restaurant patron.

Additionally, MRLA survey data suggests more than 40% of restaurants will close, at least temporarily, if dining rooms are closed.

Approximately 250,000 employees are likely to be laid off from restaurants over the holiday season. With no federal funds and an exhausted Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, it is unclear where the revenue will derive to finance the influx of claims.

If the closure is prolonged and federal stimulus dollars are not made immediately available, upwards of 6,000 more restaurants will permanently close by spring. For the record, approximately 2,000 restaurants have already closed their doors permanently in Michigan in 2020.

Closing the restaurant industry will again wreak havoc on the supply chain, which will have an outsized impact on Michigan’s broader economy and possibly imperil basic supplies from reaching Michiganders."

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.