Indoor dining reopening but with strict limits

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Restaurants are getting ready to reopen their dining rooms for the first time in months.

Friday, the state announced it is easing COVID-19 restrictions. People can dine indoors again starting Feb. 1.

“We’re glad to be open,” said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. “We felt all along that we could be open.”

Dining rooms will open again, but with restrictions still in place for both bars and restaurants.

Tables must be six feet apart, close by 10 p.m. for contact tracing and are limited to 25% capacity.

“You’re not going to be at 100 percent of that percentage 100 percent of the time,” Ellis said. “So, you’re not going to be at 25% 100 percent of the time, and even at 25%, you’re not paying the bills.”

The limitation on capacity means that some restaurants will not find any value in this at all.

“At 25% capacity limitations, they really can’t cash-flow their business,” said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “In other words, if they opened at that level, they would lose money and wouldn’t be able to sustain.”

There is also no clear benchmark that needs to be met to increase capacity.

“Well, quite honestly, that’s the frustration all along. What is the benchmark that we’re using? What’s the goal that we’re trying to achieve as an industry? As a state?” said Rick Baker, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

If people are not comfortable, they will not come in. But a new, voluntary Safer Dining Certification program might help with that, addressing dining room ventilation.

“As long as it’s not turned into a mandate, a program like this could give customers a little more confidence to go out and patronize a business that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Calley said.

Right now, the industry is pushing for higher capacity and legislation that could waive liquor license fees in 2021.

“Hang in there, reach out to us, we’re trying and we will continue to fight for our industry,” Ellis said.

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