CBS Detroit – As Governor Whitmer is starting to open parts of the state in northern Michigan, the clock is ticking for the majority of Michigan restauranteurs who have restaurants and bars that in many places are either closed – or offering take out and curbside service only.

According to an article by BridgeMI, Michigan’s restaurant industry is a $19 billion dollar business. Justin Winslow, CEO of Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said since March 16th, when the first executive order closed dine-in service, each day since an average of 20 restaurants will shutter their doors forever. BridgeMI reports this is based on a survey from Mid-April that showed 4% of owners won’t reopen at all.

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The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association wanted to target May 29 as the date Michigan Restaurants open. Putting out a “Roadmap To Reopening” with a list of proposed guidelines for restaurants to follow. However, the Governor is working a six-stage reopening plan. We are currently in phase three. Restaurants wouldn’t have a limited dining option until phase five.

Credit: CBS Detroit – Places like Punchbowl Social have had to layoff its staff and remain close until the state allows them to reopen.

With the anticipated reopening of restaurants coming, there will most certainly be restrictions on how many diners can be allowed inside, with perhaps 50% (or less) capacity limits. As being experienced in other parts of the country according to Business Insider.

James Beard-winning Chef Andrew Zimmern told Business Insider, restaurants need to be at 85%-90% at the capacity to be able to make it. The restaurant industry, in general, has very tight margins when it comes to overhead expenses, food costs, and payroll. So even with inside dining restored, will some restaurants be able to make it without really re-evaluating their business models?

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With summer approaching, perhaps one idea for Michigan restaurants is to do what other cities across the country are considering. Closing down streets in areas to allow restaurants and businesses to use the streets to set up expanded seating. This would allow eateries to seat people, but the larger outdoor seating would enable them to abide by social distancing guidelines. It would be easy to imagine it would also help downtown districts as well, but the challenge would be to avoid overcrowding.

Spencer Nevins, President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association said, “Our view is we need to do some things to help these places to be able to operate, mainly social distancing… and get back to business.”

From the standpoint of the beverage industry, Nevins said it’s not as simple as just opening up. Restaurants and bars have been idle for some time. Lines for beer and soft drinks need to be cleaned. Keg beer, for example, has a shelf life of 45 to 60 days. Whether it has been tapped or not. A keg of beer weighs 160lbs, and getting these expired kegs out and replaced with fresh will require special equipment, manpower, and logistics.

Justin Winslow told Bridge MI, “Customers are going to vote with their feet whether or not they feel safe coming back to their local restaurant… All a restaurant can do is demonstrate they’re meeting and exceeding every level of guidance on how to operate safely.”

As local and state government leaders and businesses navigate the post-COVID-19 landscape, how we do business will change, and might even affect how we utilize public spaces.

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