Whitmer administration leaves restaurants in dark on new COVID rule

Restaurants now are limited to six people per table, down from 10. They also must collect information on diners. (Shutterstock)

Under new pandemic orders that took effect Monday for Michigan restaurants, customers are required to provide their names and phone numbers as part of their dining experience. 

The mandate is intended to help limit the spread of COVID-19, but the lack of information from the state on how that information is to be collected left the restaurant industry hungry for details.

“We have had hundreds and hundreds of calls from our members about this,” said Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. 


“The ones not angry are confused,” Winslow said. “Some are both.”

Expectations for how to gather the information and what should be done with it are unclear, Winslow said. Also a concern is a restaurant owners’ liability if the personal details provided to the restaurant are shared.

Other questions include whether every person at the table must provide contact information, whether minors are included and whether a restaurant faces a penalty if false or incomplete information is given.

The state health department says it is finalizing guidance for restaurants, but didn’t say why that didn’t happen before the rules took effect.

“We realize there are many questions about how bars and restaurants should comply with the new contact tracing requirement,” said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). 

The regulations were among the new pandemic health orders announced Thursday by MDHHS Director Robert Gordon, an appointee of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The customers’ personal information is intended to help contact tracers as they investigate potential virus spread.

Besides requiring that information from customers, restaurants now are limited to six people per table, down from 10. Customers, meanwhile, are asked to wear masks unless they’re taking a bite or a drink, instead of keeping masks off only while seated. 

The state’s more aggressive health order – issued as Michigan’s outbreaks from social gatherings increased and the state reached new daily highs in case counts – also limited crowd sizes at indoor events like banquets, weddings and conferences to 50 people, down from 500. 

Since the order was issued last week, coronavirus hospitalizations have climbed to nearly 2,000 statewide, the most since early May. Outbreaks at bars and restaurants totaled 12 as of Oct. 22, the most recent date that the state released non-school outbreak data. That compares to 34 for social gatherings and 28 for colleges and universities. 

Gordon said as he unveiled the new order that it is focused on minimizing the risk of indoor gatherings where people are “moving around, chatting, dancing, eating and drinking without masks on.”

“The more people who are there, the greater the risk that someone has COVID, and the greater the number of people that can be infected,” he said. 

Violations of the order are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail. Gordon said the state prefers to pursue education and voluntary compliance.

However, given the privacy implications, it’s unclear whether customers will buy into the message that the policy was put into place for their health and to potentially slow or stop public spread.

“The thing you can’t control is the participation,” said Richard App, small business retention and attraction specialist at the Grand Rapids Chamber. He said he’s seen social media posts encouraging customers to provide fake phone numbers. App also has had conversations with restaurant owners who express “trepidations because we don’t know how people are going to respond.

“The restaurants are just trying to stay open,” App said. “They’re hoping for people’s understanding, because this is everyone’s first time down this road.”

Michigan’s restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. About one-third of the state’s hospitality workers remain out of work, according to federal labor statistics, and ongoing capacity limits as winter approaches has 20 percent of the state’s restaurants warning that they may not survive until spring.

App said many restaurant owners know that they’ll hear complaints from customers about “how their freedom is being compromised.” However, many customers already leave a lot of personal information in various industry systems: Online ordering, reservation systems and credit card payments already involve some degree of personal information exchange.

“The sad reality is the [contact tracing] system is there to ensure safety and let people know as quickly as possible that they may have been infected,” App said. “The best intentions are there, but a lot of people choose to see it the other way.”

Owners are also looking ahead with concern, hoping that this latest set of regulations won’t be followed with another shutdown or further customer capacity restrictions, App said.

Michigan’s new restaurant requirements are similar to those announced by Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee in May. However, Inslee quickly rescinded his order following challenges over privacy concerns by that state’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We emphasize that privacy-friendly and voluntary measures are often more beneficial to public health goals than mandatory measures or measures that make people fear the loss of their privacy and loss of the freedom to choose which businesses to enter or patronize without revealing their identity,” according to the letter sent May 15 by Michele Storms, executive director of the Washington state ACLU. 

“While we respect that the recently issued customer logging requirements aim to improve the process of manual contact tracing, the mandatory collection of contact information from customers is an invasion of privacy.”

Later that day, Inslee modified the requirement, making it voluntary. He also laid out some expectations for how it would be handled.

“We only need information for one person per household. If we learn you may have been exposed to COVID-19 during your visit, the information will only be shared with public health officials. They will contact you to explain the risk, answer questions and provide resources. This information will not be used for any other purpose, including sales or marketing. If this list is not used within 30 days, it will be destroyed," Inslee said. "This will not be required of anyone."

That may be where Michigan takes its order, but so far no one knows.  Michigan’s branch of the ACLU declined to comment for this story.

Local health departments also do not yet have detailed information from the state on expectations for restaurants, said Susan Ringler Cerniglia, spokesperson for the Washtenaw County Health Department. That department will be talking to restaurants about how the restaurants are proceeding, and giving other restaurants best-practice advice. 

Those conversations, Ringler Cerniglia said, likely will involve adaptations of take-out order or reservation systems where people already provide some personal information. 

Many restaurants around the state are turning to social media to encourage their customers to comply and understand that the restaurant owners are doing the best they can with limited information. 

Budd Lake Bar and Restaurant in Harrison launched a raffle for customers who provide their information. Each month, a drawing will be held for a $20 gift card.

“We know this will cause frustration for many, in a way only this pandemic can and regardless of your stance on this, we are required to comply,” according to the restaurant’s Facebook post. “So we want to make it fun and rewarding for you to share your information, have a drink and a great meal!”

Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler, co-owners of The Mitten Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, made a video to detail how they would handle the personal information, promising to store it only on paper forms filled out by customers. They will seal the form in an envelope and destroy it as soon as the state allows. 

“We won’t use it unless we’re compelled to,” Andrus said. 

Both Andrus and Trierweiler encouraged customers to not take out frustrations on staff. “We will be fined if we do not adhere to this,” Andrus said. “Please, a little bit of understanding is going to go a long way with us and our team. Nobody wants to do this. “

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Mon, 11/02/2020 - 8:02pm

The order is unconstitutional. The ACLU in Washington State laid out the case why it's unconstitutional. I'm not quite sure why the restaurants don't make that clear to customers and the health department.
The government has said many times that it's racist to require ID to vote,
but all of the sudden finds it compelling that people must provide an ID to eat.
I won't be abiding by any unconstitutional orders from the health department.
We are not living in Nazi= Germany and there is no law stating I must provide my information to eat food. Sorry but no. Restaurants must grow some balls=

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:14pm

Craving Rocky Mountain Oysters?

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 2:45am

Besides the States violating my first amendment right now the State is violating our fourth amendment rights. This is all happening because of a virus that the CDC says is nearly harmless while Whitmer lies about the death rates using pre-existing conditions as Corvid deaths!
Again in Michigan, Whitmer has overstepped her authority with edicts to the masses, giving up our rights over safety concerns that do not match any Criteria as she hides the formal information.
Since when do our constitution rights end when her fears begin? Governor Whitmer needs to be shown the door or recalled. Even the Spanish Flu did not require Citizens to give up their God given-Constitutional Rights. I agree with the individuals who tried to kidnap Whitmer (Not for Harm) , but her tyrannical form of government needs to end and it is Constitutional to remove (by any means), a dictator!

Again, since when does our Constitutional Rights End where their fears begin? We The People say STOP !!!

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:16pm

237,177 deaths on Trump's incompetent watch. We The People say STOP Trump!!!

BYE DON 2020!
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 4:58am

It didn't have to be this way. Jerks refuse to wear a mask. Our economy could have been kept open this whole time.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 9:30am

Did you just crawl out from under a rock? You clearly have no clue how viruses spread/mutate.

This current surge is most likely due to forced mask mandates for healthy people. You appear to be too dim to understand how the human immune system works, so I'll just quote your Emperor nanny-govenor "Google it".

American Idiots
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:08pm

Yeah, fire Fauci and Google your answers. Masks cause covid? Then I guess all the physicians in my family must have covid and never told me. LOL You are an ingrate to all their sacrifices. Next time you have a surgery, make sure the surgeons are not wearing masks, better yet, skip the surgery and to Trump's witch doctor for help.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 10:31am

I can't believe adults, splitting hair's, crying about their "rights" and ultimately making the situation worse by prolonging the virus!

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 5:57pm

You sure drank the koolaid, if you think those fashionable masks work,also guess who majorly shut things down oh ya the Democrats!!!!

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 8:15am

All of us have have signed up for for a shoppers bonus card at some point or other, giving up personal information, habits, insights into our lives. These industries small, mom and pop aren't looking to use your information as a marketing tool they are looking to safely stay in business during these trying times so let's try and make that happen for this struggling viable industry.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 11:54am

You're completely missing the point.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:12pm

Lags, no kidding. Besides, if you order take out, you give your phone number. Imagine if the food had a listeria problem, you'd want the restaurant to give you a call.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 1:54pm

My town had a terrible flu season last winter where the town closed the school and students were all over town in masks. Forward a few months later when the Governor asked the state to do the same about Covid and the same pack of idiots flipped out over wearing masks and schools closing. If the Governor told the average Michigander not to shoot themselves in the foot they would fight to go do just that. This state is a waste of resources.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 8:37am

So what classifies as a restaurant? Indoor seating at a fast food restaurant? Appleby’s or Friday’s? A Fine dining place like Mario’s where you are there for perhaps an hour and a half? Is the order even written down where there is something to read? Typical Whitmer - act first, maybe think later.

Black's Law
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:17pm

Any one with a restaurant license that can be yanked.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 8:59am

The problem is these mandates are illegal. The state supreme court already declared them so. Any attempt to run around that ruling puts you in contempt of court.

Covid Kills
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:19pm

The problem is the GOP legislature wants to play, but is unseen locked in the basement of the capitol or at superspreader Trump rallies.

Opting out
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 9:18am

More and more people will be opting out of participating. Businesses will suffer, go bankrupt, and close.

Realistically, how many businesses will survive on a fraction of capacity and limited revenues? It's only a matter of time before they regulate themselves out of business by imposing this unconstitutional nonsense. Try as you might to regulate the people, there won't be enough that comply to keep these businesses functioning for long. But, one might think that was the plan all along.

GOP dummies
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:21pm

Yeah, it's sad people can't just wear masks. Now take-out might be the only option. That or we'll need more Trump bailout socialism.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 10:09am

"The best intentions are there " I think the road to hell are paved with those too.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 10:10am

Scary times ...scary time to be alive under this new tyrannical dictatorship ..they'll just continue to use covid forever ..masks forever too . It's a shame

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 10:32am

After thinking about the whole name and phone number mandate I realized I already give that info if I make a reservation. I don't like the idea but I also don't want the restaurants to close. BUT keeping your mask on between bites...seriously, Gretchen! WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION has multiple times stated that healthy people should not wear masks. Only those that have compromised health should wear masks. Children should not wear masks. Simple hygiene practices will help stop the spread. Boosting your immune system is necessary. Stay home if sick. Recovery rate is high and death rate is low. Start living your lives again people. Do your own research.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 10:33am

I do not recognize this law as being legal. Another HalfWitt illegal law. The supreme court ruled against her.

Justa American
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 10:36am

I will not give my real name and I will be giving out the phone number directly to the governor's office when asked. Screw you Whirler!

Jim Smith
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 11:29am

Since when is the health department (an executive branch agency) empowered to create criminal law (a function of the legislative branch)? The fact that this hasn't already been challenged in court and thrown out is the result of failure to teach basic constitutional law in our schools. Oh, and having a rabidly left wing attorney general who is more interested in left wing causes than protecting our rights.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:21pm

I manage a restaurant in Massachusetts where we've been getting first names and phone numbers for every dine-in party since reopening in the spring. Use a spiral notebook and a pen. It's not rocket science.

Catherine Pinto
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 1:58pm

Our legislators need to embrace science and listen to public health officials. People are dying. If ever there was a reason to come together across the political divide a deadly pandemic should be it.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 2:04pm

I love it when Robert Gordon calls his decrees, "guidance." Surely a Harvard and Yale Law grad is familiar with the expression, "Orwellian." They pee on us and say it's raining.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 2:26pm

Just wondering why the governor has chosen restaurants to mandate with the rule of giving your name and phone number for contact tracing. I go to meijers, kohl's, target, church and many other places where there are far more people in attendance and I am not required to provide my name and number.

Marlon D Glenn
Tue, 11/03/2020 - 2:39pm

It is obvious, to anyone with knowledge, that the Whitmer administration is a communist organization. History shows that only communist governments desire such levels of control over the people. This scam virus is nothing compared to the destruction caused by this evil administration. No one is going to give their life's information to purchase a hamburger.

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 3:45pm

Really, Bridge? Hasn't there been enough sensationalizing done toward Whitmer? Haven't the White Nationalists gotten whipped up enough yet? Until everyone (including the media) starts acting like we are pulling in the same boat, we will have mental anarchy aimed toward each other and continuing anguish instead of focusing on virus mitigation. Let's quit pointing fingers at our government (that is trying to figure all this out) instead of fomenting partisan discord. I think people are forgetting this war is against a virus. (side note: masks DO work, as proven time and again in this crisis and others and why healthcare has used them for over 100 years now--although the alt right & likely Russia keeps posting fake news to the contrary)

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 5:48pm

more than 45 years ago while in Korea and Japan for 2 years, it was common to see people wearing masks when they had a cold, or as a response to pollution or respiratory problems. They understood THEN, almost fifty years ago!, that masks work. Masks aren't for you if you are already infected or a carrier, they are for your family, associates, and other loved ones you come in contact with. Mask/no-mask is a false argument posited to gain power thru non-discerning sycophants who are easily led and not capable of critical thinking for themselves. WTFU, America, some may not like it, but we are still one country!

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 9:26am

People wonder why 70,000,000 people voted for Trump. Are they all racists? No, people just want to live their lives without interference from overbearing "leaders". The more this stuff goes on, the more likely that another politician with Trump like rhetoric will get elected again. Liberals just never learn their lessons.

Sat, 11/14/2020 - 7:56pm

Just went to a restaurant tonight, completely forgot about the new rule about contact information until we had left the place and the restaurant forgot as well. No contact tracing, didn't feel like going back to rectify the situation.

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 3:48pm

When I heard last spring that restaurants in other parts of the world were taking names, addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases emails from restaurant diners to assist with contact tracing I thought it was a great idea and wondered why we didn't do that here in the US. Our contract tracing here has been miserable as few places had any idea of who to contact or how to contact them. I am for everything we can all do to help stop the enemy - COVID 19.