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Dining Out Is Slowly Returning to Detroit. Here’s What to Expect

Prepare for longer lines, QR codes, non-refundable deposits, and even busing your own table

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A man holds up his cellphone to a QR code held by a masked woman in a restaurant
Paper menus are a thing of the past at many restaurants. Be prepared to scan a QR code to order and pay.

After a year of mandated closures, limited capacity, and start-stop openings, many Detroit restaurants are open for dining room service again.

Now that pandemic restrictions are starting to relax, restaurants and food businesses are easing their way back: Openings increased 5 percent nationwide in the first quarter over the same period in 2020, according to data from Yelp. On Mother’s Day, restaurants reported lines out the door. Coronavirus cases are down and more people are getting vaccinated, helping diners feel safer about going out to eat.

But dining out isn't what it used to be. The new normal has a new set of rules that may take some getting used to. Here’s what you can expect:

You’ll Need Your Cellphone

Paper menus are increasingly a thing of the past at many restaurants. Order by scanning a QR code posted on the door of the restaurant, on its counter, or even at your table. At places like Eastern Market Brewing and Coriander Kitchen and Farm, all ordering is done through QR codes.

If you want carryout, you may need to call ahead and then wait in your car until you get a text to come inside for pickup. To dine in, if your table isn’t ready, at most restaurants you’ll also have to stay in the car until a text arrives.

Get Used to Waiting

Throughout the pandemic, lines at fast-food drive-thrus have been long as dining rooms are sometimes fully or partially closed. Limited capacity and labor shortages have also lengthened lines inside restaurants. Anticipate waiting a little longer to get served these days, especially on weekends.

At Coriander, like many restaurants, there are no servers; customers order through a QR code on the menu. Once the order is ready, your name and table number will be called. Pick up the food at the counter, take it back to your table, and be sure to clear the table of everything when you’re done.

Make Reservations

If you know where you want to eat, head to that restaurant’s website and look for a reservations link. Or use a reservation platform, such as OpenTable, Resy, or Tock. Some restaurants are a bit more old-school and require a phone call.

More and more restaurants are not only requiring advance notice in order to plan for spacing, but also asking for deposits or prepaid reservations — no-show insurance, in effect. The Rattlesnake Club, for example, charges a $350 nonrefundable fee for reservations of groups of six. Even for a smaller party, deposits are generally required. For places without those requirements, be considerate: If you made a reservation and need to cancel, do it as soon as possible, or if you’re running more than 15 minutes late, let them know. With limited capacity and increasing demand, empty tables are bad for the bottom line; restaurants make staffing and supply decisions based on the number of diners they expect.

Forget Lingering

Grab (or eat) and go is the new normal. Many Detroit dining rooms are still closed for sit-down service, so you must carry out. Some restaurants that do allow in-house dining are serving food in takeout containers and limiting the time you can stay. At Mabel Gray, for example, it’s 90 minutes; at the Apparatus Room, you’re limited to two hours. Some dining rooms want you out in an hour.

Prices Have Risen

A shortage of staff members, chicken wings, and even ketchup means diners will pay the price. Add to that pandemic losses and restaurants’ need to raise wages to stay competitive, and you should expect higher prices, especially at fast-food joints. Coop, a Caribbean food stall at Detroit Shipping Company in Cass Corridor, cut its serving sizes at the start of the pandemic, and Saffron De Twah scaled back beef options on the menu during its reopening last June after increases in meat prices. Other eateries have been forced to pass increases on to customers.

Mask Up at Many Places

Hi everyone, Zach here with an update regarding masks At this time our policies will remain in place as we...

Posted by Urbanrest Brewing Company on Saturday, May 15, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Friday, May 14, that Michiganders who are outdoors will no longer need to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status. While indoors, fully vaccinated Michiganders will no longer need to mask up, but many restaurants are still requiring coverings and haven’t removed signs from their doors. Vaccinated or not, many restaurants will still require diners to wear masks.

Of course, the mask can come off while you’re eating, but cover your nose and mouth when picking up takeout, leaving a table, or waiting for food to arrive. Servers and restaurant staff often had to remind customers about masking and protocols during the pandemic, putting themselves in uncomfortable, sometimes frightening situations. Don’t be that customer.

Some of Your Favorites May be Closed

A red sign in a window states that the business is temporarily closed.
Many restaurants remain closed or have reduced hours.
Erin Alexis Randolph/Shutterstock

Sadly, many restaurants didn’t make it through the past year, and the local industry lost a lot of workers. In Michigan, an estimated 3,000 restaurants closed permanently during the pandemic, according to Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. Some who haven’t are taking pauses for some R&R, as new workers get up to speed, or as they struggle to hire. Many are pivoting to outdoor dining, carryout only, and sidewalk sales whenever possible. Websites aren’t always up to date, so check the restaurant’s social media pages and call before arriving.

Outdoor Dining Options are Better Than Ever

Due to capacity restrictions on indoor dining, restaurants have expanded outdoor seating, adding patio and rooftop dining and even spaces in parking lots. Yurts or geodesic domes emerged during the winter and remain popular with diners in spring. Call ahead to reserve one.

Digital Check, Please

Cashless payments were already on the rise pre-pandemic. They’ve become even more common as restaurants seek contactless transactions. At many establishments, cash is no longer accepted. At others, you’ll pay by card when you make a reservation, when you scan your QR code at the table, or on your way out.

Your Favorite Dish Might Not Be on the Menu

The buffet has been a casualty of the pandemic at many places. Many restaurants have reduced the number of items they offer, or changed menus to adapt to the times. Signs at Boostan Cafe in Hamtramck recently informed customers that the menu was limited “due to a shortage of employees and space.”

Drinking on the Sidewalk Might Actually Be Legal

A sidewalk signs in Ferndale reads “West Zone, You Are Here” and indicates the social district for sidewalk drinking
Signs in Ferndale indicate the social district for sidewalk drinking
Monica Williams

To drum up business for restaurants and bars, Michigan downtowns have been establishing social districts, or sidewalk areas where alcohol can be consumed. Businesses that are granted a Social District Permit may sell alcoholic beverages on their premises to customers who may then consume them within a certain marked district. Social districts are currently legal in Grosse Pointe Park, Dearborn, Farmington, Wyandotte, Mount Clemens, Ferndale, and other Michigan cities. Just one note: Don’t bring in your own Solo red cups from home, says Lena Stevens, director of Ferndale’s Downtown Development Authority.

MDHHS Orders [Official]
MIOSHA Emergency Rules [Official]
What Are Michigan’s Current COVID-19 Rules for Restaurants and Bars? [ED]
What (and How) to Eat in Detroit During the Coronavirus Pandemic [ED]
Gov. Whitmer Unveils Plan That Ties Michigan Restaurant Capacity to Vaccination Rates
All Coronavirus Coverage [E]

Saffron De Twah

7636 Gratiot Avenue, , MI 48213 (586) 359-6138 Visit Website

The Apparatus Room

250 West Larned Street, , MI 48226 (313) 800-5600 Visit Website

Boostan Cafe

3470 Holbrook Avenue, , MI 48212 (313) 456-8100 Visit Website

COOP Caribbean Fusion

474 Peterboro Street, , MI 48201 (313) 932-0320 Visit Website

Detroit Shipping Company

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

Coriander Kitchen and Farm

14601 Riverside Boulevard, , MI 48215 (313) 338-9466 Visit Website

The Rattlesnake Club

300 River Place Drive, , MI 48207 (313) 567-4400 Visit Website

Mabel Gray

23825 John R Road, , MI 48030 (248) 398-4300 Visit Website