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Restaurant group hopes added safety precautions will convince customers to return

an empty row of tables at a restaurant
Andrew Seaman

Just one day after Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended her stay at home order until May 28th, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association released its plan for reopening restaurants. 

The group said restaurants are still hoping to open up on May 29. 

The 26-page plan includes details about how to maintain social distance in restaurants as well as guidance on where to purchase face masks for employees. 

Justin Winslow is the President and CEO of the Association. He said the many safety precautions will be important for convincing the public it’s safe to return.

“This guidance provides how to exceed those expectations to help build that confidence with the general public, ” Winslow said.

The plan also includes advice on changing menus to focus on the most profitable meals. Winslow said restaurants may also begin charging more to keep themselves afloat. 

That may be especially important as it is unlikely restaurants will be operating at capacity as they open back up. 

“Creating a six-foot barrier, a six foot distance between guests is much more important than trying to operate at a specific percentage threshold,” Winslow said. 

According to Governor Whitmer’s plan to reopen the state, Michigan still is in phase 3, with restaurants not opening until phase 5. But her plan does not include hard dates for when the state moves to each phase. 

Winslow said Michigan restaurants have to open back up on May 29. 

“We’re operating in an environment where half of the states already allow restaurants to operate at dining capacity. By the time we get to the 29th that number is going to be larger. We don’t want Michigan, who is in a peninsula right now, to become an island as the only state not allowing restaurants to operate,” Winslow said.

According to Winslow, every day in May, 20 restaurants in Michigan close permanently. 

University of Michigan epidemiologist Emily Martin said the safety precautions restaurants take will be essential to ensuring the virus can’t spread. She said it’s difficult to answer questions about how safe it will be to return to any given restaurant. 

“If I’m in a community where cases are rising, personally, I’m using take-out. If I’m in a community where the cases are going up it’s a good idea to be cautious,” she said.

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