Some Michigan Restaurants Open Their Doors, While Others Can't Afford To

Feb 1, 2021

The Stray Dog in New Buffalo reopened its dining room on Feb. 1, the first day indoor dining was allowed in Michigan since November.

After a nearly three-month “pause” due to rising coronavirus cases, Michigan restaurants are now able to offer indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Some restaurants have already reopened their doors, while others can’t afford to.

Leslie Danesi co-owns the Stray Dog restaurant in New Buffalo, which reopened its dining room Monday, Feb. 1. 


She said in a resort town like New Buffalo, restaurants are already used to seeing fewer customers in the winter than in the busy summer months, meaning they can adapt to the state’s new capacity requirements. 


“Every year we feel that expansion and contraction,” Danesi said. “It’s doable in the winter. Being able to just get open, even at the 25 percent capacity, is a real plus.”


However, Arthur Havlicek, president of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber in Berrien County, said other local restaurant owners haven’t been financially able to open at reduced capacity. 


“Some of the very small restaurants here locally, ones that only have 20 seats to begin with, you’re talking about five guests,” he said. “That doesn’t make fiscal sense to have your wait staff come in, to keep the lights on.”


Havlicek added that even if a restaurant is only serving at 25 percent capacity, they are still “on the hook for 100 percent of their rent, their equipment, their utilities [and] their insurance.”


Restaurants also have to abide by a 10 p.m. curfew as part of the reopening plan and get contact information from diners for contact tracing. 


Danesi said her restaurant was already well-versed in COVID-19 safety protocols before opening on Monday. When Michigan’s first indoor dining pause ended in June, she said the restaurant installed plexiglass barriers and a new filtration system, as well as new protocols for seating guests and taking payment. 


“For us, it’s old hat,” she said. “We know what we’re supposed to do to keep our customers and our staff safe.”


Danesi said the Stray Dog, like many other restaurants, will continue to offer takeout for customers who don’t want to dine in just yet. Michigan’s current pandemic order will stay in place until Sunday, Feb. 21.


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