Restaurant owners are seeking clarification from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on last week’s revised emergency order requiring bars and restaurants to gather names and contact information from patrons.
The department extended and revised parts of a previous statewide order on Thursday that went into effect immediately. A new provision requiring restaurants and bars to collect contact information went into effect today, which hopes to make it easier for public health officials to do contact tracing as COVID-19 cases surge across the state.
Last week’s announcement brought swift opposition from the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and some restaurant owners.
Collecting the name and contact information for everyone who dines at a restaurant or bar seems “a bridge too far,” said James Berg, managing partner at Essence Restaurant Group LLC, which owns The Green Well and Bistro Bella Vita in Grand Rapids.
“We do a lot of reservations, so for everyone who gets seated, we have contact information for their group so we’ll just continue that,” Berg said.
He added that it’s unclear whether the restaurant would have to collect contact information from everyone in a dining group or just one person.
“If you’re dining with your husband, wife or family, do I need to get your partner or your 8-year-old son’s contact information?” Berg said, adding that statewide orders are more difficult to enforce if they are confusing to customers and business owners.
Patrons at San Chez Bistro and Roam by San Chez in Grand Rapids won’t be affected much by the changes, said owner Cindy Schneider. The restaurants already collect contact information for reservations, but it’s difficult to anticipate how customers will react to the new rules, she said.
“I don’t know what we will do if they refuse to give their contact information or put a different phone number,” Schneider said.
Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, contends that enforcing restaurant industry-specific contact tracing lacks merit.
“In relation to the size and scope of the industry, which serves millions of people every day and employs several hundred thousand more, this well-intended effort is more likely to result in job loss, foreclosure and fewer restaurants than it will prevent transmission,” Winslow said in a statement last week.
The MRLA maintains that restaurants are safer environments than alternatives that are less regulated and sanitized, Winslow said.
Restaurant owners have also been concerned throughout the pandemic about having to act as enforcers, including dealing with customers who refuse to wear face masks and now with sharing contact information.
Restaurant Partners Management Inc. President Jeff Lobdell told WOOD-TV this week that he is “not excited” about the new rule, but that his restaurants are “going to comply as best we can.” Restaurant Partners Management operates more than a dozen restaurants in Michigan, including Rockwell Republic, Beltline Bar and Sundance Grill & Bar in Grand Rapids.
Lobdell’s restaurants will reportedly use QR codes at tables where customers can submit basic contact information.
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