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Southeast Michigan Cities Rush to Expand Patio Seating for Restaurants and Bars

A majority of surveyed restaurant customers say they feel more comfortable dining in an outdoor space during the pandemic

blue pepsi umbrellas and yellow flags surround people seated on a patio in front of Bert’s Marketplace
The patio at Bert’s Marketplace in Eastern Market.
Michelle and Chris Gerard

While many Southeast Michigan restaurants are scrambling this week to prepare for reopening by rearranging seating for social distancing, cities and municipalities across the region are quickly pushing through changes to patio seating ordinances.

On Monday, June 8, restaurants and bars across the state will be permitted to start serving dine-in customers for the first time in nearly three months. But with much still unknown about the novel coronavirus, many believe the outdoor, open-air seating is the safer option for dining out.

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. 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.

Several Detroit restaurant owners also told Eater in May that they would be willing to provide a form of limited service on a patio, even if they weren’t comfortable bringing customers inside quite yet. Meanwhile, Brush Street Bar & Grille in Brush Park was way ahead of the curve in getting its newly furnished patio and dining room ready to welcome customers back.

Michigan is already several weeks into its scant warm season when outdoor seating is feasible, and many restaurants and bars have only limited patio space. Some of those spots are now counting on local leaders to allow more flexibility in use of outdoor public spaces amidst an ongoing economic and public health crisis.

Along with bills allowing for to-go cocktails, state lawmakers have also introduced bills that could allow cities and municipalities to create so-called “social districts” where the public could drink alcoholic beverages off-premises, similar to New Orleans. Restaurants and bars with permits to use the district spaces would be required to manage these spaces and make sure that customers didn’t leave designated areas.

In the past several weeks, Birmingham adjusted rules to temporarily allow restaurants and cafes to adjust and expand outdoor dining spaces on to city sidewalks and streets, according to Crain’s. Plymouth has also begun the process of reorganizing portions of its downtown and Old Village areas for more outdoor seating.

Detroit followed suit on Tuesday, when the city council passed a unanimous resolution that expedites the process for issuing sidewalk permits to businesses, the Detroit Free Press reports. Rather than taking 60 days to process, the permits must now be approved within a 24-hour window; the city has also streamlined the temporary street closure process, that used to take a year. Restaurant owners may begin applying for the permits today on the detroitmeansbusiness.org website, which provides information for operators on how to manage their reopening plans.

Ann Arbor’s city council also unanimously approved a plan this week to allow restaurants and bars to expand their patios into streets, according to MLive. The plan proposes the potential closure of several streets including Main, Washington, Liberty, Maynard, State, Detroit, and Church streets, along with South University Avenue. Those closures could begin as soon as Friday, June 12 and would take place every weekend from 2 p.m. on Friday to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Beginning Monday, restaurants and bars across the state may open at 50 percent of capacity with six feet of space between groups. They all must comply with other guidelines for disinfecting, monitoring staff members, and making sure employees wear face coverings over their nose and mouth.

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.

Detroit Speeds Up Outdoor Dining Permits as Restaurant Reopening Date Nears [Crain’s]
Detroit Is Making It Easier for Restaurants to Get Outdoor Seating Permit [Freep]
Downtown Ann Arbor Bars, Restaurants Get Council’s OK to Expand Patios Into Streets [MLive]
All Michigan Restaurants and Bars Can Open for Dine-In Service on June 8 [ED]
How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]

Brush Street Bar & Grille

2458 Brush Street, , MI 48201 (313) 656-4640 Visit Website

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