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The View From Detroit’s Socially Distanced Summer Restaurant Patios

Restaurants and bars throughout the city are trying their best to make outdoor seating appealing at one of the most challenging times in the hospitality industry’s history

Orange and white striped umbrellas cover wooden picnic tables with orange flowers in vases and bottles of hand sanitizer next to a dock.
Picnic tables are set up next to the dock at Coriander Kitchen and Farm in Jefferson Chalmers. Flowers and hand sanitizer are plentiful on the tables.
Gerard + Belevender

It’s been two months since Michigan’s bars and restaurants started reopening for on-premises service following months of partial closures due to novel coronavirus. While the ongoing pandemic still deservedly consumes much of the world’s attention, in Detroit many establishments are trying to make the most of Michigan’s meager outdoor dining season and the new coronavirus-driven laws and fast-tracked permits that have allowed patio seating to expand.

Restaurants with tiny indoor dining spaces are particularly vulnerable to the limits of 50 percent capacity and six feet of social distance. Some establishments have elected not to open at all given that the cost of reopening would outweigh any potential earnings from a more limited number of customers. Other small operators with the means to adapt to patio service have done so in record time, transforming parking lots into outdoor oases and spilling tables out onto closed streets. Unpredictable weather is also a part of summer in Detroit and some businesses have constructed tents and covered pergolas to give customers a drier (or shadier) seating option during a rainstorm.

Eater asked photographers Michelle Gerard and Jenna Belevender to take photos throughout July capturing the view from 2020’s highly unusual summer dining scene in Detroit.


Ima in Corktown is smaller than the group’s other locations in Madison Heights and Cass Corridor, meaning owner Mike Ransom had to think creatively about how to reopen the space. This summer, Ransom made the dining room a carryout-only space and expanded all dine-in seating outdoors to a covered patio and a new, extended uncovered seating area with and a minibus that will be used for outdoor service.

Ima customers sit under a pergola with a disco ball at twilight. Some wear masks while seated while others who’ve received their food have removed their masks to eat.
A bright blue minibus sits against the fence surrounded by tables with umbrellas and customers eating at twilight.
a man and a woman sit at a picnic table underneath a striped pink umbrella at twilight.

(Top left) Ima customers sit at socially distanced tables in a covered patio. (Top right) Chef Mike Ransom worked with his landlord to rent additional space at the corner of Michigan and Vermont Street for an extended outdoor patio. (Bottom) Ransom focused on outdoor service at his Corktown location, which some believe may be less risky than dining indoors during the pandemic due to a greater degree of ventilation.

Detroit Shipping Company has cautiously moved from carryout service to dine-in service in an outdoor-only setting. The shipping container food hall in Cass Corridor has socially distanced tables set up in its courtyard and has also spilled out onto a neighboring parking lot where a beach and additional tables and tents are set up for customers.

Detroit Shipping Company’s outdoor courtyard tables are shown on a sunny day from a view on the second floor of the shipping container building. Tables are covered with white, black, blue, and orange umbrellas.
Customers can sit in a courtyard seating area at Detroit Shipping Company.
Wooden booths with extremely high wooden backs are covered with umbrellas on a sunny day.
Detroit Shipping company constructed outdoor booths with extremely high backs to create barriers between tables in a new parking lot seating area.
A blue minibus that appears to be converted for outdoor service sits behind umbrellas and tables on a parking lot patio.
Socially distanced tables sit in the parking lot behind Detroit Shipping Company.
An events tent with string lights and a ceiling fan is set up over eight-seat wooden tables.
Detroit Shipping Company set up a large event tent over a portion of its long tables in the parking lot for additional shade and protection from unexpected downpours.

One of Detroit’s newest and most anticipated restaurants may have debuted amid the pandemic, but the team at Coriander Kitchen and Farm is still making the best of summer by the water in Jefferson Chalmers with picnic tables, striped umbrellas, and lots of social distancing. Coriander takes orders online and prepares the food outdoors for pickup, to help limit contact with service staff. The restaurant is also offering carryout.

An overhead view of the grill setup and socially distance picnic tables at Coriander on a sunny day.
A food prep area and grill are set up outside near the patio dining area.
A platter with two sandwiches and dessert bread in the hands of a woman with a black dress and white slip on shoes.
Customers at Coriander can place orders online for their meal and pick them up for carryout or patio dining at the restaurant.
A blue building next to patio chairs, a fire pit, a couch, a tent with Coriander’s prep kitchen, and picnic tables with umbrellas in the distance.
Coriander Kitchen and Farm features an expansive patio seating area.
A sandwich board explains the ordering procedures in front of the picnic area at Coriander.
Customers grab a seat at picnic tables at Coriander Kitchen and Farm. Some wear their masks at the table.

Southwest’s popular food trailer Detroit 75 Kitchen expanded its outdoor seating area to both sides of the trailer in an effort to keep distance between customers ordering food and those who are seated at the cart’s patio.

The windows on all sides of the Detroit 75 Kitchen trailer are open and customers sit under red umbrellas on tha patio.
Customers sit on the patio beside Detroit 75 Kitchen.
A red umbrella and planters surround several long seats next to the Detroit 75 Kitchen trailer.
A new seating area on the west side of the Detroit 75 Kitchen trailer allows more space for customers waiting for their food.

With it’s extremely narrow dining room and limited seating, seafood spot Mink decided to transition to patio-only seating with counter service for the summer. The restaurant takes orders at the counter on disposable menus and serves food on disposable tableware that customers bus themselves at the end of their meal.

(Top) Customers seated outside Mink in Corktown. (Bottom left) Dishes at Mink are served on disposable plates. Customers can also order meals to-go. (Bottom right) Tables are set up outdoors in a parking lot next to the building where Mink is located. The restaurant has them set at a proper social distance and customers who try to move them are asked to leave.

At Mink’s sister restaurant and butcher shop Marrow in West Village, customers can reserve a table indoors or outside on the patio for a prix fixe meal. The set menu allows Marrow to limit the amount of contact between waitstaff and tables, reducing the opportunity for transmission of novel coronavirus.

A fire pit in the foreground with socially distanced tables and a pergola in the background.
Marrow takes reservations for both patio and indoor dining for a pre fixe menu.
Gerard + Belevender
A wooden pergola covers wooden tables with folding wood chairs and plants.
A pergola covers outdoor tables on Marrow’s patio in West Village.
Gerard + Belevender

A number of metro Detroit restaurants have resumed dine-in service. The level of service offered is indicated on each map point. However, this should not be taken as endorsement for dining in, as there are still safety concerns: For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the state of Michigan’s coronavirus tracker. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on restaurants following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines.

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 Approves Street Closures and New Sidewalk Seating for Restaurants Amid Pandemic [ED]
A Guide to Detroit Restaurants Offering Carryout or Patio-Only Seating During the Partial Reopening [ED]
How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]

Coriander Kitchen and Farm

14601 Riverside Boulevard, , MI 48215 (313) 822-4434 Visit Website

Detroit Shipping Company

474 Peterboro Street, , MI 48201 (313) 462-4973 Visit Website

Mink

1701 Trumbull Ave, Detroit, MI

Marrow

8044 Kercheval Avenue, , MI 48214 (313) 652-0200 Visit Website

ima

4870 Cass Avenue, , MI 48201 (313) 883-9788 Visit Website

Detroit 75 Kitchen

4800 West Fort Street, , MI 48209 (313) 843-3215 Visit Website

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