This past month in Michigan has been a strange one in the cycle of the pandemic. While the state has managed to keep cases and deaths relatively low throughout the summer, state officials are now warning that a new spike in cases as more people gather indoors could threaten any of the limited progress the community has made in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Now, some Michigan restaurants are beginning voluntarily switch back to takeout and delivery only service.
While the transition in service formats is taking place during the traditional end of patio season, updates to statewide rules on restaurant and bar operations, issued on Thursday, October 29, appear to have triggered several business owners to close dining rooms. Metro Detroit Thai restaurant Siam Spicy’s management announced on Facebook on Friday, October 30, that the establishment would be temporarily converting back to takeout only due to the new Michigan epidemic orders requiring restaurants to limit groups to six people or less and to track customer names and phone numbers [Editor’s Note: Siam Spicy has reopened.]. Likewise, vegan restaurant Detroit Street Filling Station in Ann Arbor also elected to close down its patio dine-in service for the season, citing concerns about health and safety.
Reached by Eater on Friday, owner Phillis Engelbert says that as a business owner, closing down was a tough decision to make, given that, until very recently, nearly 50 percent of the restaurant’s business was from people eating in Detroit Street Filling Station’s outdoor space.
She notes that the combination of rising cases across the state and the recent University of Michigan-specific stay-at-home order set off alarm bells. “This week, just through the grapevine, it seems like we hear [of] one or two restaurants every day where employees are testing positive for COVID,” she says. The new contact tracing rules, which go into effect at restaurants and bars on Monday, November 2, felt like a sign. “It became obvious that it was the right time to make the call to just stop offering in-person dining... a lot of people will congregate at our outdoor tables, and it just feels like a responsible move,” she says. We’re doing our part to help halt the spread of the virus.”
Engelbert says she understands why many restaurants will not voluntarily choose to make the same decision. “A lot of businesses are struggling financially, and this bump that they’ve been getting from in-person dining has really helped keep them afloat. So I would not fault anybody who makes a different decision. We just had to make the best decision for us,” she says.
For now, Detroit Street Filling Station will renew its efforts to provide delivery and carryout to customers, who Engelbert hopes will support the decision to close the patio. The owner says she plans to keep all her staff on for now, barring any major decline in sales. The restaurant is also continuing to offer free meals to laid-off restaurant workers in need.
“We all have to make sacrifices and be vigilant in order to reduce the spread of the virus and, hopefully, someday get past this terrible period,” she says.
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