While the first Michigan cases in the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak were being identified in Oakland and Wayne counties on Tuesday, March 10, entertainment venues and restaurants across the city were already bracing for all potential outcomes — the possibilities of mass panic, of sick employees, and event cancellations.
Each year, Detroit’s service industry looks forward to the the Movement Electronic Music Festival, hosted over Memorial Day weekend, and the North American International Auto Show, which was moved to a summer schedule for 2020. The food industry relies upon these events to make up for the slow winter season. Already, the schedule change for the NAIAS — which alone draws more than 800,000 people annually to the city and pumps around $500 million into the local economy from restaurant buyouts and other ancillary events — has hampered many businesses bottom lines. However, with the widely publicized cancellation of South By Southwest in Austin and the postponement of Coachella in California, the metro Detroit hospitality industry in now bracing for another potential blow from coronavirus. Restaurants and venues are now taking precautions to reassure visitors that it’s still safe to go out.
As of March 10, both events are cautiously moving forward as planned. The NAIAS, where automakers reveal their new models, released a statement that organizers are “closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) while also moving forward with the June 2020 show in Detroit.”
“Here in Detroit, we are monitoring the latest information about the novel coronavirus and are reviewing our policies and procedures,” NAIAS chairman Doug North says. “We are also in the process of meeting with city and state health and safety officials to develop the proper precautions for our show.”
The Detroit Foundation Hotel and its restaurant the Apparatus Room, located a block from TCF Center where the auto show is held, is likewise keeping an eye on the situation. “We are planning to reassess the situation closer to the Detroit Auto Show to determine if any planned events need to be rescheduled,” a representative for the hotel writes in a statement to Eater.
In Eastern Market where thousands of visitors and vendors gather weekly to explore the sheds, eat, and shop, market organizers are preparing to roll out new safety measures on Saturday, March 14. In an email, market president Dan Carmody outlined the new policies. They include: additional hand washing stations at market entrances, signage reminding guests and vendors of good hygiene practices, increasing the frequency cleaning and disinfecting of restrooms, and reinforcing requirements around food sampling. Eastern Market is also directing customers to keep up-to-date on CDC information regarding preventing the spread of Covid-19 in public spaces.
Elsewhere, local businesses have been quietly taking extra precautions. Ping Ho is the owner Nest Egg hospitality group in Detroit, operating Mink, Marrow, and the Royce with her partners.
Nest Egg is already taking steps to reinforce standard restaurant sanitation protocols and is implementing additional measures to making sure high-traffic surfaces like touchscreen terminals are disinfected more frequently. The next step involves Nest Egg communicating about the virus to reassure customers, who may be fearful about coming out to eat in a public place.
Management is also taking a look at its books and seeing where the group can “mitigate the loss of revenue,” Ho says. “We need to be able to withstand any protracted downturn and what can we do to start being judicious to what we spend.” Nest Egg is also exploring alternative ways to work with customers such as offering delivery.
In an industry where very few workers are provided with healthcare benefits and paid sick leave, Nest Egg does offer full-time employees healthcare. The partners are exploring ways to extend sick leave options to part-time staff. “We will wait and see how the situation unfolds in Michigan,” Ho says.
Greg Mudge, owner of Mudgie’s Deli in Corktown, is taking small measures like providing hand sanitizer at POS stations and at the entrances and being vigilant about the regular restaurant sanitation practices. “My biggest fear is that panic sets in and that people start acting crazy before anything happens,” he says.
Mudge is still hopeful that major events will go forward as planned in Detroit. Business was down in January compared to past years, due to the delayed auto show schedule and he’s been actively promoting alternative events to drive people into the restaurant. Mudge, like many local restaurant owners, is eagerly looking forward to boosts from Movement and the NAIAS in June. He’s planning to put any extra revenue earned during the events aside for next winter.
But he worries that the events may be cancelled or postponed. “I’ve been paying attention to what a lot of promoters are saying,” he says. “If those things were to get canceled it would probably be catastrophic. I’m hoping these things are contained by then.”
Ho, originally from Singapore, lived in Shanghai during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s and recalls a significant downturn in business during that time. Nevertheless, “cabin fever,” eventually got to her. “Me and my friends continued to go out,” she says.
She hopes that customers will do the same in Detroit: “Our survival depends on people to stem the panic and continue to wine and dine.”
• Tracking the Effects of Coronavirus on Food and Restaurants [E]
• All Coronavirus Coverage [E]
• 11 Questions About the Covid-19 Coronavirus Outbreak, Answered [Vox]