As Michigan's restaurants reopen, some hospitality workers think customers should stay home

Jun 25, 2020 at 1:03 pm
click to enlarge As Michigan's restaurants reopen, some hospitality workers think customers should stay home
Norenko Andrey, Shutterstock

After being forced to close due to the coronavirus, Michigan's restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen earlier this month, with some caveats, including lower capacities to allow for social distancing and mandatory masks, which guests can take off once they're seated. In Ann Arbor, the city has allowed restaurants to annex the streets in front of their businesses to allow for spacious outdoor seating and even more social distancing.

Of course, despite these new safety protocols, there are still risks. Harper's Restaurant and Brew Pub in East Lansing made headlines after 22 customers tested positive for the coronavirus, with 14 of them having visited between June 12-20. Though the bar was following the advised coronavirus safety procedures, it temporarily closed again to retool, admitting it was hard to get customers waiting in a long line outside the bar to wear their masks and properly social distance.

And while many restaurant workers, who have been furloughed for three months, are likely eager to be earning money again, some have been vocal about their ambivalence about a situation where the virus is still spreading. Some have even pleaded for customers to stay home.

Ann Arbor-based restaurant workers launched a petition calling for Washtenaw County to continue to keep restaurants closed, fearing for their safety.

"As one of the largest groups of employees in the US, restaurant workers have long felt unheard, underappreciated, and expendable," they wrote. "In these unsettling times of the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel this more than ever."

Other Detroit-area hospitality workers spoke candidly about their concerns to Free Press reporter Mark Kurlyandchik, who published their responses in a piece called "Fear and loathing in the service industry as metro Detroit restaurants begin reopening." (Nice.)

"I'm not staying home for my $760," a Buddy's server told the Freep, referring to the money she collects each week from unemployment. "I'm staying home because it’s not safe!" Plus, with lower restaurant capacities — and many nearby businesses closed, which would draw more customers — servers will be risking their lives to make less in tips, anyway.

Writer and restaurateur Tunde Wey, who co-founded Hamtramck pop-up Revolver and now lives in New Orleans, made a case that the restaurant industry as it exists doesn't deserve to survive the coronavirus crisis:

An industry where labor is segregated by race and gender, underpaid and uninsured. An industry fed largely by an industrial agricultural system that either extracts profits from the environment with little consequences, or offers ethically sourced produce to just a few for a lot. Let it die. An industry where on the higher end is great food at fat prices in spaces that drive up real estate values, pushing property prices higher and poorer people further. And on the lower scale, working poor people, making barely enough to keep them going, serve low nutrition meals to other working poor people, who can’t afford quality housing because of predatory development. Let it die. And all over the spectrum, a white man gets paid off of all of that. Let it die.

If you do go out, wear a mask while you wait in line, and for god's sake, tip generously. People risked their lives for your dining experience. And be patient, as everyone is still trying to figure this thing out.

Keith Allard, the chef and co-owner at Grand Rapids' poke joint Wiki Wiki, posted a sign outlining the restaurant's new rules, encouraging customers to call their orders in ahead of time and advising against paying in cash.

"Embrace the chaos," he wrote.

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