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Restaurants get "lots of calls for reservations" on first day of indoor dining

Marisa Chrissos (left), Alexis Honzik and India Holland (right), celebrate Chrissos' 21st birthday at Zola Bistro in Ann Arbor on the first day of reduced capacity indoor dining for Michigan bars and restaurants
Tyler Scott
Michigan Radio
Marisa Chrissos (left), Alexis Honzik and India Holland (right), share mimosas to celebrate Chrissos' 21st birthday at Zola Bistro in Ann Arbor on the first day of reduced capacity indoor dining for Michigan bars and restaurants.

Some Michiganders on Monday had their first meal inside a restaurant in months.

They were likely greeted with a temperature check and a request for their phone number, for contact tracing purposes. Indoor dining is allowed again at Michigan bars and restaurants, with a limit of 25% of maximum capacity, up to 100 people max, plus a host of other restrictions.

State officials say the "pause" on indoor dining through the fall worked. They point to three "key coronavirus metrics" to justify allowing limited indoor dining to resume. 

At Zola Bistro in Ann Arbor, three University of Michigan students celebrated a 21st birthday on Monday with mimosas and brunch.

Junior Alexis Honzik says it’s nice just to have something to do.

“We all live in apartments, so we’ve been like just hanging out there,” Honzik says. “So this gives us a chance to get out and not cook our own food for once.”

Her friends India Holland and (newly 21-year-old) Marisa Chrissos say they feel safe with added safety restrictions in place.

“I feel pretty comfortable, everyone keeps distanced and masks,” Chrissos says. “I trust they’re following guidelines.”

“I’d also like to think that if someone felt sick they wouldn’t come,” Holland says. “I mean obviously there’s the asymptomatic people, but at a certain point I just want to live my life.”

Some restaurants might choose not to re-open for indoor dining yet. Management at more than a dozen restaurants and one coffee shop talked to Michigan Radio about their plans and expectations. Many said they haven’t been profitable during the pandemic, and while nearly all said they would prefer a higher capacity limit of 50% of maximum occupancy, seeing customers inside again is a step toward normalcy.

Zola Bistro General Manager Savannah Turner says there were a few tables for lunch on Monday, and a lot of reservations for dinner Monday evening.

“I think people are really ready to finally be able to get back to a sense of normalcy,” Turner says. “Of course, I’m always worried about the safety of my customers as well as my staff. So we’re excited to be open but still taking a lot of precautions."

Andy French says he has “cautious optimism” that the worst of the pandemic is in the past. French owns Aubree’s Pizzeria & Grille in Ypsilanti.

“The 25% threshold doesn’t bring us to break even, it just allows us to lose less money,” French says. “25% is better than shut down, but it is still a difficult place for us to be.”

French and Aubree’s General Manager Rob Costa say it was a foregone conclusion they were going to re-open for indoor dining as soon as it was permissible, and they saw some customers as soon as they opened for lunch.

“Foot traffic [Monday was] actually pretty good,” Costa says. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

Still, Aubree's is waiting to re-hire laid off staff until the future becomes a bit more certain. Monday was only the first day for reduced-capacity indoor dining, and state health officials say they’re closely watching what happens with a more contagious COVID variant that’s in Michigan (the U.K variant, also known as B.1.1.7).

“We really want to see what this looks like,” French says. “Because bringing [workers] back, then [possibly] laying them off, I mean, we already did that once. When we bring people back, we want to have confidence that they will have a job that they can rely on.”

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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