New state order allows restaurants, bars to open indoor dining Feb. 1

By: Mike Koury | C&G Newspapers | Published January 25, 2021

 The state’s newest health order will allow bars and restaurants to open at 25% capacity. Some establishments, such as Berkley Common, have been operating with igloos and tables outside in order to continue doing business.

The state’s newest health order will allow bars and restaurants to open at 25% capacity. Some establishments, such as Berkley Common, have been operating with igloos and tables outside in order to continue doing business.

Photo provided by Katie Kutscher

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Jan. 22 that a new order governing indoor dining at restaurants during the pandemic will go into effect at the beginning of February.

The order, which goes into effect Feb. 1, states that restaurants and bars will be allowed to open at 25% capacity with up to 100 people. Tables must be 6 feet apart with no more than six people allowed per table, and outdoor tents with four sides will be permitted under these rules. Bars and restaurants must close by 10 p.m., and information must be collected from diners for contact tracing.

“The pause has worked. The efforts we have made together to protect our families, frontline workers and hospitals have dramatically reduced cases and we have saved lives. Now, we are confident that starting February 1, restaurants can resume indoor dining with safety measures in place,” Whitmer stated in a press release. “Michigan continues to be a national leader in fighting this virus, and we must continue working to keep it that way. One of the most important things Michiganders can do is to make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine when it’s available to you. And as always, mask up and maintain six feet of social distancing. We will end this pandemic together.”

Indoor dining had been closed down since November after COVID-19 cases and deaths spiked. Bars and restaurants still were allowed to have outdoor dining, as well as carryout and delivery, since that time.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, stated in the same press release that they are pleased to see improvements in case rates, hospitalizations and percent positivity that have allowed the state to reopen more activities.

“However, we must remain vigilant, especially since we now have a new more easily transmitted variant of this virus present in our state. This is not the time to let our guard down and Michiganders should minimize their risk by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks properly, social distancing and making a plan to get their vaccine when it is their turn,” Khaldun said.

Katie Kutscher, owner of the Berkley Common restaurant, said she was “pretty encouraged” by the new order.

“We play it really conservatively, so I’m aligned with what (Whitmer’s) talking about,” she said. “It would be great to be at 50-100% (capacity), but I completely understand the slow rollout.”

That being said, Kutscher and her restaurant have adapted operations many times during the pandemic. This includes setting up multiple igloos and tables outside to create a lodge-like atmosphere, and working with the city of Berkley to shut down a street near the establishment for more space.

As with many businesses and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kutscher said, they had to work quickly to figure out how to survive. She feels the new order, which she estimated will allow around 25 patrons inside Berkley Common, will enhance what they’re currently doing and doesn’t think restaurants should be “packed in” during a pandemic at this point.

“If I didn’t have outdoor (dining), and we were not a carryout place to begin with, (25%) wouldn’t mean a whole lot and it would be very hard to exist on those margins because you’re not paying the kitchen any less to work at 25%,” she said. “I would say we’re in a different situation than a lot of other restaurants. We’ve secured a business in COVID that we didn’t have before, and we’re doing OK, but just 25% for your normal operations, probably you’re not going to survive.”

Kutscher said the restaurant is going to start slow and see how everything goes, because it’s difficult to change business models every couple of weeks. She is hopeful that they are getting close to seeing the light at the end of this tunnel, but she thinks everything is going to change moving forward.

“We’re not going to turn on the lights one day and be back to normal,” she said. “I really do think this is a process and there’s going to be ups and downs. I think we’re all going to, as a society, have to figure out how to manage in these circumstances until this slowly goes away. And I just don’t feel like it’s going to be, even in mid-summer, I think we’re going to feel a lot differently and we’ll have the weather change and people will be outdoors, but this is going to affect the restaurant business for years to come.”

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