Opinion: Return of Restaurants

Albion Malleable was one of many restaurants impacted by shut-downs during the pandemic. As of Monday, Malleable was able to open its doors to customers (Photo by Patrick Smoker).

Closed, except for takeout. Closed temporarily. Closed permanently. 

Since , Nov. 15, 2020, signs with these phrases have been seen in every community throughout the state of Michigan. The  order was issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDSHS) on that day to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season. Although the order was originally set to expire Dec. 8, 2020, it has since been extended twice beyond that date.

This was not the first time restaurants and bars closed in Michigan during 2020, but the aftermath of this latest closure have left businesses and customers alike wondering whether or not the restaurant industry will resume normal operations, having reopened on Monday at limited capacity.

Meanwhile, in other states, restaurants have continued to operate, though not without changes. Nevertheless, other states have managed to keep employees on payroll. According to data from the Michigan Capitol, 26.5% of Michigan workers have lost their jobs since February, while the average for job losses in food service and drinking places is at 14.8%. 

This loss of jobs has not only created displacement and despair for many workers, but for consumers, the social benefits typically gained by going out and gathering with friends and family have not been had, thereby impacting mental health. 

According to data reported by The Detroit News, agencies across Michigan have seen a surge in the demand for mental health services with crisis lines up over 80% from pre-pandemic numbers. Some of the stress felt by the public may be directly related to the health crisis, but it also may very well be the result of living daily with the influences of a “new normal.” 

We have all had to undergo some lifestyle adjustments during the last year, and while some people are eager to get out and resume public socialization within the community, others remain fearful that the risks do not outweigh the benefits. 

Allie Garland, a junior from Michigan, said that she does miss a few things about having restaurants open but doesn’t feel inclined to visit one anytime soon. 

“I really just miss live music and seeing old people, you know?” said Garland. “Watching them get their morning coffee and thinking, ‘Aw, that’s so cute.’”

For many elderly individuals, public eating was their only social interaction outside their homes, and the closure may have very well permanently ended that morning coffee, newspaper and chat time at restaurants around the country. 

Evan Ziegelman, a senior from Michigan, said that he misses going out to eat with his friends and the change to his daily routine that going out brings. 

“It was nice to eat and be able to see something, other than just my kitchen table,” said Ziegelman.

While on break, Ziegelman had the opportunity to visit Florida where restaurants did not close down during winter break. He visited the popular chain restaurant, Olive Garden, but he said that he specifically misses eating at a small restaurant called Rainbow Chinese.

Favorite restaurants across the state are reopening this week, but for Albion students in particular, the “bubble” students will again be restricted to may leave many feeling isolated.

 Ziegelman, for example, doesn’t have any specific plans to head out to eat right away, but if his friends decide to go out, he said he would be happy to join in on the social opportunity. 

While students may feel varying degrees of social loss resulting from the inability to dine with friends at home or publicly, restaurant establishments themselves are even more eager to be back in business. 

Cascarelli’s of Albion opened back up on Monday to a crowd of none. They were hoping to draw large numbers on opening day, but instead found themselves with zero customers for lunch. Albion Malleable had better success serving six lunch tables on re-opening day.

Alivia Benedict, a junior from Indiana, went out to places like Condado Tacos and Red Robin over break, and said she is eager to return to restaurants.

“I’ll probably go to the Malleable when I can,” said Benedict. “I’ve really missed it. It has a nice, welcoming atmosphere.”

Although restaurants are back up and running, consumer hesitancy paired with strict rules from MDHHS on limited capacity are unfavorable indicators of how soon the industry will come back to normal. Here’s to hoping we will get back to a time when eating and drinking together is fun, safe and encouraged.

About Shannon Barba 18 Articles
Shannon Barba is a sophomore from Marshall, Michigan, currently double majoring in physics and computer science. After Albion, he hopes to attend graduate school at MIT. In addition to being Co-Marketing Coordinator for the Pleiad, Barba is the Engagements Chair of Student Senate, participant in the Prentiss M. Brown Honors program, member of the Student Volunteer Bureau, mentor for first-year students, pianist for Albion's Jazz Band, representative for the Committee of Student Learning, mentor for Harrington Elementary School, and a member of the Biochemistry Club.

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