As Northern Michigan reopens, restaurateurs weigh risks and refigure business plans
After being shut down for nearly two months, restaurants in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan received permission from the governor to allow sit-down dining at limited capacity just in time for Memorial Day. Some welcomed the flood of tourists for the busy holiday weekend, but others erred on the side of caution and are sticking to takeout-only service for a while longer.
Skip Telgard is one of the latter. He owns the Bluebird Restaurant & Tavern in Leland. He says that there just wasn't enough time for him to prepare a safe dine-in experience for customers and employees. Normally, the restaurant is gradually ramping up to Memorial Day as the first busy weekend of the summer. But Telgard says he did not expect any dine-in services to be allowed in Michigan this past weekend, and it would have been difficult to fully staff the restaurant and train employees in time for the increased service with just a few days notice.
Telgard says the Bluebird is slowly getting ready to reopen, but he hasn't set a firm date yet for when that will happen. They are planning to move most of their dining area to the outdoor patio. They are also figuring out the best procedures for cleaning the restrooms, which is a challenge many businesses are grappling with as they reopen.
“When the big season of July and August get here, we want to be open indoors. But we’re not going to do it until we’re absolutely certain and we can feel really safe about both our staff and our customers. So that’s where we’re headed right now, and always with an optimistic view though,” Telgard said.
Amanda Danielson is the owner of Trattoria Stella, an Italian restaurant in Traverse City. They were open this past weekend for business, but Danielson says they were enforcing strict safety protocols. Only one reservation every 15 minutes was allowed, and masks were mandatory when entering and moving around the restaurant.
Danielson says many local residents were excited to hear that they were opening their doors, and most were appreciative of the safety precautions the restaurant was taking. But shortly after their announcement, Danielson says the restaurant started receiving calls for reservations from all over the Midwest. Some callers tried to request tables for more than 10 guests. Others called to say they'd be heading to the restaurant straight from the airport.
“The overzealousness of some people with little regard for the safety of my staff was a big concern for me,” Danielson said. “I really feel that it almost felt for a couple days there that hospitality workers were expendable as long as people get to go out and eat. And it’s a challenge for us because we are in the hospitality business, and it’s what we love to do.”
Danielson says she also heard reports that some tourists came to Traverse City this past weekend with symptoms of COVID-19, which was something that concerned a lot of local business owners.
“Why anyone would expose their family and potentially inject this horrible thing into a community that’s had very few instances of it is beyond me,” Danielson said.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.