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Michigan Legislature Approves Bill to Create ‘Social Districts’ for Outdoor Drinking

The bill would create designated public areas where people could drink alcohol from open containers

The beach at Campus Martius is filled with colored umbrellas and plastic chairs. Stock Detroit

In addition to giving a thumbs up to allow bars to sell carryout cocktails, the Michigan legislature also forged ahead with a bill allowing for cities and municipalities to establish new outdoor drinking spaces known as “social districts.” On Wednesday, June 24, the state senate voted in favor of the measure, sending it off to the governor’s desk for a signature.

Like the to-go liquor bill, House Bill 5781 is designed to make it easier for restaurants and bars to take advantage of public outdoor spaces for customers to social distance and drink from open containers. Common areas must be marked clearly with signs and established hours of operation. Road closures would have to be approved by local transportation agencies. Restaurants and bars with the proper permit priced at $250 would be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks to customers for consumption within those designated areas. Under the rules, the drinks must be:

  • labeled with the logo of the business
  • labeled with a mark indicating which social district the beverage belongs to
  • sold in a non-glass container of no more than 16 ounces

Customers would not be allowed to bar hop under the rules without first discarding an alcoholic beverage from a different business within the district. Customers who buy wine from a restaurant or bar that’s permitted to sell bottled wine to-go could potentially consume part of a bottle in the social district and take the remainder home, so long as the business recaps the bottle or replaces the cork following state guidelines.

Under current rules, restaurants and bars are allowed to serve customers in dining rooms, bars, and on patios at 50 percent seating capacity with six feet of space between groups. All patrons must wear a mask when not seated for service and employees are also required to wear face coverings and get health screenings at the start of a shift.

According to an Eater Detroit survey, roughly 87 percent of respondents expressed a preference for being seated on a patio when service resumed at Detroit-area restaurants during the pandemic. That’s opposed to the 52 percent of participants who said they would be willing to sit in a dining room and the 33 percent of respondents who felt comfortable being seated at a bar. However, most businesses have limited space for outdoor seating. Many municipalities, including the city of Detroit, have already moved to expand patio spaces and expedite the permitting process.

The social districts rules established by this bill would allow cities to setup spaces where customers could move freely with alcoholic beverages in designated outdoor areas.

Social Districts House Bill 5781

Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at detroit@eater.com.

Michigan Legislature Passes Bill Paving the Way for To-Go Cocktails [ED]
Michigan Lawmakers Propose Bills for To-Go Cocktails and ‘Social Districts’ for Outdoor Drinking [ED]
Southeast Michigan Cities Rush to Expand Patio Seating for Restaurants and Bars [ED]
Detroit Approves Street Closures and New Sidewalk Seating for Restaurants Amid Pandemic [ED]

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