Grand Rapids is taking a novel approach to helping dining establishments survive the winter with state mandated indoor occupancy levels reduced. The city is looking at setting up social zones on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots. And the possibilities are quite creative, outdoor fires, tents, heaters, igloos, canopies, and other ideas are under consideration.

The idea is you order from your favorite restaurant, then take out your meal to one of the nearby or adjacent social zones and enjoy in a covered heated environment. The goal is to try and not lose any of the current outdoor season throughout the winter months, it is a tall order, but anything is possible. Some diners will consider it an adventure, and a safe way to dine outside of your home. Another consideration is allowing customers to bring in sealed containers of alcohol to drink if you do not leave the social zone boundaries.

MLive reports “Multiple businesses have described Social Zones as helping them to survive and/or sustain higher customer volumes and payroll than would otherwise be the case,” Lou Canfield, the city’s development center manager, wrote to commissioners in his staff report on extending the social zone period. “Concerns generally are centered on a desire to maximize compliance with public health guidelines, as well as to ensure public enjoyment of Social Zones free from disruptions.”

In anticipation of the upcoming winter season, Grand Rapids City Commissioners gave initial approval businesses to move ahead with obtaining and activating heating devices and wood fires. They also cleared setting up tents, canopies and temporary installations that would shelter diners from the elements. Of course, Fire Department and City Building officials would have to give approval on those temporary installations.

Here in Lansing businesses are also gearing up for the winter weather. Many have relied on their outdoor seating to serve enough people to be profitable.

WILX reports “Restaurants like the Watershed Tavern and Grill have expanded their outdoor seating by adding this tent to serve more people through this pandemic.” But knowing rainy and chilly days like Monday lie ahead for fall, owners are worried about what is next for their business. “Obviously on a day like today, I don’t foresee anybody sitting outside,” said Chelsea Jennings, the Front of the House manager. Jennings says even one rainy and frigid day can have repercussions.

Adding the expanded outdoor seating has helped the Watershed and Fleetwood Diner with the restrictions. Current statewide orders restrict restaurants to 50% normal seating capacity. Others in Lansing are looking to gear up for outside dining and drinking. Horrock’s on the west side of town is rumored to be adding heaters to their huge outdoor bier garden. One way or the other, Michiganders will find a safe way to get out of the house and enjoy some food at their favorite dining establishments. And I know those establishments really appreciate it!

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