Michigan sees among worst restaurant job loss in nation

Michigan sees among worst restaurant job loss in nation

More than a quarter of all Michigan restaurant and bar jobs were wiped out last year – the third worst decline in the nation.

Recent employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Restaurant Association place Michigan among the states with the worst restaurant and bar service job losses in the country.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and initial restrictions in March 2020, Michigan has seen a decline of 86,500 restaurant and bar industry jobs – the third worst decline in the nation in terms of both raw job loss and percent change.

More than a quarter of all restaurant and bar jobs statewide were wiped out last year – falling to less than 229,000 workers employed in the industry as of November 2020 from more than 315,000 in March.

Only California and New York outpaced Michigan’s restaurant job losses in terms of sheer numbers, while Vermont and Hawaii have weathered the worst rates of job loss in the industry.

After restaurants attempted to regain their heavy losses during the summer months, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer imposed Nov. 18 a renewed stay-at-home order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS.

Many restaurants and bars said after the November order was announced they were being treated unfairly, singled out by the MDHHS despite already taking on myriad precautions and restrictions to continue to operate safely. Meanwhile, other businesses – like gyms and retail shops – were allowed to stay open.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, or MRLA even attempted to work with the state health department in crafting new restrictions in the period leading up to the second order – offering to accept a lower capacity limit of 25% and add a 10 p.m. curfew. Instead, Whitmer announced a blanket ban on indoor dining.

As renewed COVID-19 restrictions hit small businesses and struggling restaurants statewide, Michigan’s restaurant and bar industry saw a further 9,900 decline in industry jobs between October and November 2020 – coming second only to Illinois in the entire country.

While the order, along with its statewide ban on indoor dining, was originally intended to stay in effect for three weeks, Whitmer continued to extend the heavy-handed restrictions without providing any timetable for the reopening of restaurants at the time. “A lot of people believe this is going to be substantially longer than three weeks,” Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA, predicted in November. “Six to eight is what they’re preparing for, maybe longer.”

Leaders like Winslow and Scott Ellis, CEO of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, have warned that the second round of COVID-19 restrictions could lead as many as 40% of restaurants and bars to permanently shutter their doors.

After months of uncertainty and calls loosened restrictions, restaurant owners will finally see some respite from business closures. Whitmer announced Jan. 22 that restaurants could reopen for indoor dining Feb. 1, with limited capacity and other COVID-19 health precautions.

Indoor dining will be limited to fewer than 100 patrons or 25% capacity, whichever is less. All restaurants will also have to obtain contact information for every person who eats indoors.

“It’s a start; we were hoping obviously for better results,” Blake George, co-owner of Adachi in Birmingham, said. “But we have to be optimistic and it is what it is.”

After going into effect Feb. 1, the new order will run through Feb. 21. While fewer restrictions over the three-week period will give restaurants a much-needed opportunity, Whitmer was quick to hint that backsliding COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates could result in another dining ban.

Michigan businesses have been the hardest hit in the Unites States by statewide COVID-19 measures, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. Nearly one-third of businesses in Michigan were closed under Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders, while the national average is less than 20%.

Winslow told the Detroit Free Press that reopening was welcome but overdue, and called on Whitmer to turn to “prioritizing vaccination for the broader hospitality industry and establishing clear metrics for phased reopening to 100 percent capacity of indoor dining.”

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!