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Michigan Restaurant Association Says 4,000 Businesses Are on the Verge of Closing Within Six Months

The state hospitality trade group is pushing for the governor to increase dine-in capacity at restaurants going into winter if the rate of positive cases stay below 3 percent

The patio at Ima in Corktown in the evening where customers are seated at physically distant tables.
Outdoor seating has been vital to sustaining restaurants and bars during the pandemic, but the pleasant weather is quickly slipping away.
Gerard + Belevender
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) is back this week with more dire predictions about the state of the food and beverage industry during an ongoing pandemic. Among them, the trade group is projecting that roughly a quarter of the state’s restaurants — approximately 4,000 establishments — could close within the next six months.

The latest statistics are based on a survey conducted by the MRLA looking at the health of food and lodging businesses since the first novel coronavirus cases in Michigan in March. Roughly 62 percent of restaurant operators surveyed said they experienced higher operational costs this year due largely to the increased need for personal protective equipment (PPE). At the same time, restaurants are employing one-third fewer people than they typically do at this time of year. Approximately 74 percent of respondents said they don’t anticipate sales at restaurants returning to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months. That makes sense, given that restaurants tend to struggle more in the winter in Michigan during a normal year — let alone one where establishments are operating at reduced capacity to limit the spread of a deadly virus.

It’s a difficult outlook to stomach and one that the business group is pushing to avoid with new cold weather-related proposals including asking the state to allow meeting and banquet centers to reopen indoors at 50 percent capacity with similar restaurant sanitization standards; allowing restaurants to “winterize” expanded outdoor spaces and extend temporary alcohol service permits; and reinstate Pure Michigan advertising money to promote tourism.

The group is also requesting the state to consider increasing indoor seating capacity “at restaurants and banquet centers if the data reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services falls below a three-percent positive test rate over an extended period.” That three percent figure is one the state has been aiming for as a benchmark for controlling COVID-19 numbers. According to daily testing result data tracked by Bridge Magazine, Michigan reported a 3.2 percent positive test rate as of Friday, September 11 — down from 4.4 percent a day prior. Eater has reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the proposals.

While it’s not clear exactly how Michigan’s COVID-19 policies were shaped, Gov. Whitmer did eventually allow some dine-in service in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to begin with precautions on May 22, several days earlier than the MRLA initially proposed. A recent report by the Associated Press found that conservative trade groups like restaurant associations heavily lobbied state governments and were effectively allowed to write the rules in their states to govern hospitality industry operations.

Restaurants and bars are considered a high-risk environment for contracting COVID-19. According to the CDC, “adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results.” Restaurants and bars accounted for roughly 10.5 percent of all reported outbreaks in the state during the week of September 3.

Michigan coronavirus dashboard: cases, deaths and maps [Bridge]
Emails Show Businesses Held Sway Over State Reopening Plans [AP]
CDC Finds Adults With COVID-19 Were Twice as Likely to Have Been to a Restaurant
Tracking COVID-19 Outbreaks in Michigan’s Food Industry [ED]
How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]