As mask mandates are lifted and more Americans receive vaccinations, COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted and softened. Despite the reawakening of America, the hospitality industry, and especially the restaurant sector, continues to feel the lingering effects of the pandemic. Restaurants throughout the country remain severely understaffed and continue to suffer from supply issues. With a reduced workforce, customers are often faced with slower service, limited and sometimes different hours, and unforeseen restaurant closures. In addition, a portion of the population still remains hesitant to dine indoors, opting for and demanding curbside, carry-out and outdoor seating options. To further complicate matters, disruptions in distribution and product availability are having a drastic impact on prices and menu options. Despite these hurdles, more and more options are being offered to restaurants to help navigate these difficult times. This article will explore some of the more recent ways that governments are trying to help these struggling businesses.
One of the ways that governments have been able to help local businesses, is the concept of social districts. In Michigan, for example, patrons have historically been prohibited from consuming alcohol beyond a restaurant’s defined licensed premises. Legislation passed in 2020 though has allowed local governments to apply for a permit to designate common areas as districts in which groups of restaurants with liquor licenses can allow consumers to eat and consume alcohol in common outdoor areas. These social districts were originally designed to allow restaurants to serve more customers amid social distancing concerns, capacity restrictions, and space limitations. However, with new COVID-19 strains emerging and consumer hesitancy to dine indoors, it appears that these districts will be around for the foreseeable future. According to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, nearly 70 municipalities have already established social districts. See “Local Governmental Units that have established Social Districts,” updated June 24, available at soc-dist-lgu_697422_7.pdf (michigan.gov).