Restaurants: New COVID-19 restrictions offer minimal change


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Restaurants and bars will now be able to accommodate 50% capacity for in-person dinning, but those working in the industry say the changes will not help much if at all.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made an announcement Tuesday afternoon saying restaurants and bars can operate at 50% capacity with a limit of 100 customers. Restaurants can also stay open until 11 p.m. Tables must remain 6 feet apart and there can be no more than 6 people per table.

“Last March, we went right down to just the management team here at Hancock and that’s how we executed for a while,” said Hancock general manager Daniel Harrington as he recalled working at the start of the pandemic.

Harrington says as COVID-19 restrictions changed with the number of cases and deaths, Hancock was able to bring back staff. He says as some of the rules loosen this weekend, there won’t be much room for additional customers.

“Right now, we can only seat 21 guests in our dining room and even with 50% capacity at 6 feet distance, we won’t be able to go up much more than that,” Harrington said.

He estimates they’ll have seating for an additional six to eight people with the new rules.

Larger venues say because of the 100-person cap, the new rules won’t have much impact for them either.

“It doesn’t really affect us at either restaurant because we have the banquet space, so we were kind of at the 100 max with 25% now,” said Tom Noto with Noto’s Old World Italian Dining.

Noto says between the banquet spaces and dining rooms, his business can seat up to 1,200 people, but the states cap on total capacity means they will not even get close to half of that.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association released a statement Tuesday echoing similar concerns.

“Moving the capacity limit from 25 percent to 50 percent is a step in the right direction, but we are truly disappointed that the 100-person cap will carry over … Larger establishments with greater capacity limits have more space to spread patrons out. If people are abiding by social distancing rules, there’s no need for an arbitrary cap for any establishment regardless of size.”

MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association also released a statement. They say their concern is with the length of the order.

“We welcome the governor’s decision today to expand restaurant, banquet and meeting space occupancy and consider this change critically important, but the six-week duration of this Order is concerning and significantly too long to adapt to rapidly changing metrics around this virus. We are hopeful that this DHHS Order represents a paradigm shift in the administration’s overall approach to the hospitality industry, accepting that the dramatically reduced hospitalization rate and increased vaccine distribution mean our most vulnerable populations are protected and that reopening should advance in a timely manner. While we are disappointed about the length of the Order given the fragile state of the hospitality industry and improving outcomes, we are committed to working toward collaborative and consistent – emphasis on consistent – progress towards the full reintegration of the industry as Michigan moves more fully into a new phase of this pandemic.”

Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association

The staff at Hancock say they’re looking forward to the summer months as outdoor seating may allow for more customers.

Those at Noto’s say they’re hopeful restrictions will continue to loosen.

“We just need to be open with common sense,” Noto said.

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