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Dining Out? Here’s What to Know

Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend in Northern Michigan would have been the beginning of the Summer tourist season. But this year, it marked the beginning of a step towards normalcy: the partial re-opening of some of our favorite restaurants. However, some businesses are now open, but some are choosing to wait until they feel they can ensure a safe environment for their staff. No matter the choices of these establishments, life hasn’t completely gone back to normal.

Here’s what to understand before you dine out:

Restaurants are abiding by government regulations. 

This means that you will find that restaurants are operating at 50% capacity (or less!) and may look a little different inside. Linen tablecloths may have been swapped for easily cleanable table covers. Indoor and outdoor seating will be spread apart to ensure distancing. You may even find plexiglass separating you from your bartender, host or cashier. In addition, there may be new systems to maintain social distancing while out of your chair, such as limits on bathroom capacities, or using your phone to order from the bar. 

Each business is problem solving within their own unique operation. If you’re confused, the best solution is to make sure you are reading signage, and if that fails, just ask. Employees are happy to help you make sure everyone is safe. 

Call ahead!

Not all restaurants have reopened, so it’s smart to double-check. Many that have opened have a reservation-only policy, and even if not, waiting areas are still not allowed, and guests are asked to wait for a table in the car. 

Bring a mask.

The current Executive Order for re-opening states that guests must wear a mask (in enclosed public spaces and if health allows!) until they are seated for other’s safety and their own. Also, be prepared to remove your mask, if necessary, for identification purposes, such as being carded at the bar. 

Tip, and tip well!

Servers in Michigan often rely on the busy summer season to help support them year-round, and right now, they are only able to serve at half capacity. Servers often make a minimum wage of $3.67 hourly, and make their living on tips, so right now, every table served is important. Your tips are important. 

Have patience & be polite. 

Right now, everyone is on edge. Your server may feel scared to come to work. The manager is dealing with constant changes in policy and with bringing a staff back on board with new regulations. The chef is juggling changes in food availability and new cleaning policies. As Maria Leggett of Benedict in Traverse City put it, “Everything now has three additional steps. This has been a difficult adjustment for all of us. We are still able to give a great hospitable experience with your support.” If coming to the restaurant will wear on your patience, don’t go. 

If all else fails, order takeout!

Not quite ready to go inside yet? Support your favorite eateries with a boxed option to bring to the beach or your table at home. 

While there may be changes in policy, there isn’t a change of heart. Restaurants are excited to re-open, even in this limited way for the time being. I’m so ready to grab my mask and head to a table! 

Claire Butler is the Communications and Outreach Intern for Taste the Local Difference. She is a current culinary student at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute. Contact her at claire@localdifference.org

Find more great stories here.

Photo by Christina Marbury of Tootsweet of Rare Bird Brew Pub in Traverse City. Rare Bird is open, but check out their FAQs for updates on service.

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