Michigan restaurants give Gretchen Whitmer a roadmap for opening May 29

Bars and restaurants are considering how to keep six-feet distance between customers. (Shutterstock)

June 1 update: Gov. Whitmer to allow bars, restaurants, retailers to reopen June 8

Michigan’s restaurant owners want to serve customers in their dining rooms again, and they’re now outlining step-by-step changes to their operations that they hope will let them do that. 

They’ll buy Plexiglass counter shields that sell for $157 each. Take staff temperatures before shifts and regulate hand-washing. Ask customers to just order takeout if they have a cough or diarrhea. Reconfigure dining rooms. Ensure that cleaning products can remove COVID-19 from surfaces.

And masks: Ordering personal protective equipment (PPE) for everyone on staff is on the list, too.

Those actions -- among an eight-category checklist and 26 pages of suggestions -- came from the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association on Friday as it asks Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to set requirements for reopening.

They also want a date. So far, the state hasn’t addressed restaurants in announcements for re-engaging the Michigan economy, but the $19 billion industry has one in mind: May 29.

On average, more than 20 restaurants every day in Michigan will close for good from March 16, when restaurant dining rooms were closed by executive order, to the end of May, said Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. That’s based on survey data from mid-April that showed 4 percent of owners say they won’t reopen at all. 

“That’s alarming,” Winslow said. “That shows how necessary the opportunity to open is to the industry.”

Recommended roadmap for restaurant reopening 

  • Expand and establish cleaning procedures.
  • Develop a COVID-19 response team, customized for small restaurants and large chains.
  • Employee health and PPE requirements.
  • Customer health and social distancing.  
  • Managing food pick-up and delivery.  
  • Verify third parties, guidance for working with vendors and suppliers.  
  • Reopening water systems for safe consumption and use.  
  • Menu and the supply chain.

Source: Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association


Whitmer on Thursday extended the statewide stay-at-home order first issued in March, stretching it to May 28 for non-essential businesses. She and her advisers are working from a six-stage reopening plan that sets criteria for opening business sectors based on COVID-19 trends and public risk factors. 

Manufacturing got the go-ahead to get back into production with Whitmer’s latest orders, but several industries -- retail, personal care businesses and others --  join restaurants in waiting for approval. 

“We need to continue to be smart, to do this in incremental stages, to listen to the data, to ramp up the testing,” Whitmer said Thursday. 

Michigan is currently still in phase three of pandemic recovery, meaning it was flattening the growth curve, Whitmer said. According to the state’s plan, the next phase would show sustained improvement in managing the virus, while opening dining rooms could come in the fifth phase, when the virus is contained. 

Setting expectations for restaurant owners now will let them plan ahead and be ready to rebuild lost business, Winslow said. So far, 249,000 restaurant employees in the state are out of work, and the industry lost $1.2 billion in sales during April. 

“Michigan restaurants have been decimated,” Winslow said. 

The proposed playbook comes with practical tips that give some insight into what likely will be changing as the state’s 17,500 restaurants welcome consumers back to their tables. 

Most of the steps come from health resources like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance and the Federal Drug Administration. 

They also are emerging best practices for reopening restaurants from the 50 percent of states that already allow some form of dining-room service. They include Georgia, Florida, and -- as of May 21 -- Ohio. 

Before opening their dining rooms, restaurants in Ohio will be able to open their patios on Friday, May 15.

Michigan restaurants aren’t asking for an early patio-only opening date, but Winslow and his members would like by May 15 for the governor to finalize requirements for Michigan’s restaurants to re-open, to give restaurant owners time to prepare for letting customers into their dining rooms two weeks later.

“It’s the minimum time they need to prepare,” Winslow said. That includes lining up supplies, setting new processes into place and training staff on new procedures. 

The plan presented to the governor’s office is intended as a roadmap not just for how a major sector of MIchigan’s economy can start producing again, or rehire.

It’s also designed to rebuild confidence among the public, Winslow said.. One piece missing from all of the planning for reopening is an understanding of how consumers will respond to the opportunity to dine in a restaurant again, after two months of watching infections and deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan. As of this week, more than 4,300 residents have died of the virus.

National polling suggests that most customers could take up to six months to feel comfortable dining out again. For 20 percent, it could be longer.

Reopening success all comes down to customers’ responses, Winslow said. Setting up safety measures for staff and customers starts the plan in motion, Winslow said. He expects trust will build, he said.

“They know they’re not going to open on May 29 and find 100 percent of the general public eager and willing to flood back in,” Winslow said. 

“Customers are going to vote with their feet whether or not they feel safe coming back to their local restaurant,” he said. “All a restaurant can do is demonstrate they’re meeting and exceeding every level of guidance on how to operate safely.”

The outline presented to Whitmer is the result of multiple conversations, including some among restaurant owners and her economic recovery council, Winslow said.  It consolidates information in the hopes that setting direction for the industry is the next step. Some steps already taken by the administration include liquor buybacks by the state, with Whitmer calling financial losses to the industry “incredibly devastating.”

“Our goal is not to excoriate the governor,” Winslow said. “It’s trying to convince the governor and administration that we’re an industry capable of operating.”

Some of the safety points proposed for Michigan emphasizes the cleaning and disinfecting processes already addressed in licensing requirements. However, there’s not likely to be state scrutiny initially upon reopening.

“Reopening will most likely not require an inspection,” according to the section on cleaning procedures.


    The document also calls for restaurants to make multiple operational decisions. They include new staff policies, along with reviewing existing ones. Examples of questions raised: How often do servers need to clean their attire? How are health screenings conducted? 

    Customer interaction needs to be systematized, the recommendations say, along with all of the coronavirus steps put into place. That will need a point person for COVID-19 issues.

    “Your organization will need to appoint a ‘COVID-19 lead’ for every shift and a protocol for COVID-19 issues within your organization,” according to advice in the response team section. “Who in your organization will answer COVID-19 questions from consumers?  Who will collect and maintain employee health screening and temperature?  Who will enforce the social distancing inside the dining room, takeout pickup area, and waiting area?”

    The proposal also sets a heightened expectation of enforcement when it comes to customers. 

    ​”Generally, if business has a reasonable belief that the guest poses a safety risk to the other guests and staff, it may refuse to accommodate the guest,” according to one point in the reopening plan.

    Managing food pickup and delivery to minimize exposure to germs will remain a focus for the industry, according to Winslow. About 45 percent of Michigan restaurants are trying to maintain business through carryout and delivery.

    With reopening, restaurants will need to manage carryout logistics within an active dining room that needs to maintain six feet of distance between customers. 

    The bottom line, Winslow said, is that Michigan needs to act soon to get its restaurant industry in line to reopen. It’s his hope that the state is not among the last in the U.S. to identify what it expects from its bars and restaurants. 

    “They need to be given that opportunity on the 29th,” Winslow said. “It’s necessary so they’re not closing for good.”


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    Kevin Grand
    Fri, 05/08/2020 - 5:14pm

    When the governor's "authority" is revoked by the Michigan Supreme Court in a few weeks, how many businesses will jump through her hoops in order to stay afloat?

    Fri, 05/08/2020 - 7:56pm

    The lack of clear indicators from this administration for regular citizens to track progress should be seen as a disgrace. Every citizen of Michigan should be demanding that our elected officials be transparent. I don't care which party someone belongs to, the lack of transparency and the overreach from both sides is disgusting.

    Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:07pm

    Why do businesses even try to work with Whitmer? Her answer is going to be predictable- the beatings will continue until morale improves.

    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 12:08am

    Here's hoping on the 29th, someone doesn't get refused to enter a restaurant and returns with a gun to shoot the employees. I really do think it's too soon to open. Kalamazoo had it's highest increase of cases two days ago. It's STILL rising! We have NOT hit the curve yet. We cannot open or I will likely die. That is not ok. I'm somewhat safe with dining closed but my brother will bring it home pretty quickly once servers get it and spread it to him. He's the cook. We lost our Mom this year already. I'm all my brother has left. Save me.

    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 2:04pm

    Canon You want to be saved? Wake up. Grow up. And vote the dimocrats out of office!

    Sun, 05/10/2020 - 8:53am

    When did this coronavirus become 100% deadly? Just because you contract the SARS2 virus does not mean you automatically get COVID-19. And contracting COVID-19 does not automatically put you on the fast track for a coffin. Like everything in life, there are chances involved. Even a vaccine will come with risks.

    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 5:50am

    Most restaurants make a living with 80% capacity, and serving drinks. If you let the Sheriff of Nottingham make all your decisions, there will be no restaurant business.
    The 1968 pandemic H3N2 resulted in 100,000 deaths in the US according to the CDC.
    "Expert knowledge is limited knowledge, and unlimited ignorance of the plain man who knows where it hurts is a safer guide than rigorous direction of specialized character." - Churchill
    Use your common sense to keep safe, it's voluntary, and more efficient than living in tyranny.

    A Yooper
    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 10:42am

    It's not a a question of can they operate. Of course they can. They can call everyone back again and start up.
    The issue is as it has been all along....safety and prevention of additional spreading and deaths.
    It's not rocket science here, just impeccable planning which most restaurants are incapable of doing as it's all about profits.
    Why do you people think Congress is ramming through laws to protect the food serving industry to prevent them from being sued for infecting a patron with the Virus??????
    Dead people can't eat.

    Not Trump's Btch
    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:01pm

    I feel sorry for the restaurant owners and employees, but they need to fine safer jobs. I don't like them enough to patronize them and risk my life, the lives of everyone dear to me.

    Mon, 05/11/2020 - 3:41pm

    We're all glad that you'll be hiding in your house, blindly awaiting orders from the Governor on what you should do next. The restaurants will be much better without you in them. Make sure you smile when you bend over for your Queen. She loves it when the peasants grovel for her.

    Paul Jordan
    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 11:01am

    In some states that are opening before the epidemic there has been contained, the doors of businesses are open--but the customers aren't coming in because they KNOW that it is not safe.

    Safety comes first, both for employees and potential customers. Unless people are safe--and FEEL safe--they will not come in enough numbers to keep a business afloat. If those who do come in contract COVID-19, then those folks won't any more be workers or customers.

    Safety must and will come first, no matter what anyone might wish. Don't blame the governor for the situation. She is just trying to direct the people of this state to behave in ways that will help us to get this behind us as fast as possible. You--and the businesses that you support (and we need)--should instead be fully cooperating to get this virus under control so we can all be safer sooner.

    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 7:32pm

    Life is not risk-free, no matter how much some folks may wish it were. If you don't feel safe dining out, stay home, or order takeout. If you don't feel safe going to the grocery store or the hardware store, stay home, order your groceries or whatever either delivered or get in your car and pick them up curbside. Me, I'm going to use common sense, wear my mask when I'm in public, and as soon as the doors of my favorite restaurants are open, (with separation between tables, etc.) I'm going to be there. Why? Because I enjoy eating out, and because I want to support the family-owned restaurants in my area. By the way, I went to a greenhouse today, and it did my heart good!

    Nothing we do is totally risk-free. Reasonable precautions make sense to me, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my freedom and my rights in exchange for someone else's idea of safety. Seems to me our founding fathers had a lot to say about that.

    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 11:13am

    Sure is nice being in a state under control of a Republican governor. Restaurants open, with restrictions of course, but residents able to enjoy. Golfing has always been with electric cart availability, of course limited to one person per cart. And the numbers - well this state has double the population of Michigan and one third the deaths, which works out to a death rate of 1/6. The big difference is the people and what they will do. No, we don't have 100 attendee barbecues with no social distancing. Yes, we all try to adhere to CDC guidelines. That is the big difference, that and the governors recognition that both economic and medical results should be obtained.

    Gary Wilson
    Sun, 05/10/2020 - 11:45am

    Where are you at? Sounds like a good place to be

    Nick Ciaramitaro
    Sat, 05/09/2020 - 2:53pm

    The Michigan Restaurant industry is to be commended for thinking ahead about how to reopen SAFELY when the time comes. They are certainly correct in their assessment that customer response is as important as Executive Orders. Those who are flaunting recommended safety precautions today are delaying the date on which we can safely reopen.

    Mon, 05/11/2020 - 1:21pm

    I think that the only person who is trying to delay the state at which we can safely open is the Governor. She's the only one issuing orders, whether she has the authority to or not. Most other people are trying their best to open up safely. Most of the world and most of the nation is now opening up safely. The only person stopping that here is the Governor.

    Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:04am

    I keep coming back to how every decision with this has been made based on "science". The scientific method is observational. This means that, by definition, it is only good at looking at the past or present. So, why are we using it to try to predict the future? Reading your daily horoscope will be just about as accurate.

    Gary Wilson
    Sun, 05/10/2020 - 11:42am

    Socialist Democrat won't be happy until everyone has to go on Welfare and be dependent on the State

    Gary Wilson
    Sun, 05/10/2020 - 11:42am

    Socialist Democrat won't be happy until everyone has to go on Welfare and be dependent on the State

    Bow to the Dictator
    Mon, 05/11/2020 - 3:44pm

    Dictator Whitmer won't consider any suggestions unless she's come up with them. Nothing will reopen until the peasants grovel sufficiently.

    She is the PERFECT example of a petty bureaucrat who had no political power for her entire political career and is suddenly put in a position of power. She is going to punish everyone for all of the perceived slights that she thinks happened to her throughout her life.

    Maria Gershanwin
    Wed, 05/13/2020 - 12:42am

    Wouldn't it have been great if the Governor had worked with these groups to put in place safe and quick re-opening processes? People would be back to work, paying taxes, and generating sales taxes- those monies would prevent the expected massive cuts to education and road and healthcare funding that are now expected. People wouldn't be at home dying of alcohol and drug abuses and suicide- they'd be productive and valuable people again and not just numbers on house arrest.

    But working with groups to put in place processes and procedures would have required real work. Instead, the Governor just wants to wave a wand and make everyone freeze in one spot.

    Sun, 05/17/2020 - 2:50pm

    I see nothing about how servers will be protected. Servers will be wearing masks to protect the customer. Customers won't be wearing masks while eating. How am I, as a server, protected as I reach in front of a customer to serve food, clear dirty silverware, etc?