My husband I recently took a few days to unwind Up North. Just to clarify, when you live in Michigan if you say Northern Michigan it refers to the Upper Peninsula, but if you say Up North it means the northern parts of the lower peninsula.
Since it’s only a few hours away, we usually visit this area a couple of times each year, but have not been there in 2020 due to the Corona Virus. Because this was our first time traveling since the virus first began, one of our main objectives was to plan a few days away that allowed us to social distance and stay safe.
Instead of booking a hotel in the busy town of Traverse City, I booked our stay at The Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor which is more remote with lots of room for social distancing. We had planned to spend most of our time at the Resort, but the weather was a bit uncooperative for beach, pool or other outdoors activities, so we moved on to Plan B. Fortunately, this is a very scenic area and all of our adventures included amazing views of Lake Michigan, Traverse Bay, vineyards, sand dunes or forests.
Since we are familiar with this area, we also know the layout for a lot of the local businesses. Which places have small tight spaces and those that have ample outdoor seating to spread out. Those became some of the top things we considered when choosing where we would go during our stay. I paid a lot of attention to the different ways that the establishments we visited were handling their Covid-19 safety protocols.
We mostly chose places that we knew had plenty of outdoor seating, but we also found that many others have added new areas in order to be compliant.
I was uncomfortable when my husband wanted to stop at one of his favorite places, The Mitten, near Northport. Normally their tiny Tap Room is quite cozy so I was afraid of being too close to others. But I was pleasantly surprised to find they had opened up garage bay styled doors on one side of their building and added nicely spaced tables to create a new outdoor seating area.
We were greeted by the Hostess as we arrived at the Mitten, who ensured we were wearing masks before taking us to our table. She also made sure that all tables were immediately sanitized as guests left. They did a great job implementing new procedures to keep guests safe.
When we visited Two K Farms Cidery, guests ordered a flight of ciders at the bar inside of their tasting room. The visitors were then directed to tables on their deck where the flight was delivered for them to enjoy along with the beautiful bay views. This meant less traffic inside the tasting room but still plenty of space to safely enjoy some delicious cider.
Masks are required anywhere in public in the state of Michigan. All of the employees at any of the restaurants and retailers that we visited during our trip were wearing masks. There was plenty of signage for guests to know the required rules and expectations as well. We really didn’t encounter anyone not wearing a mask, although we did see people still struggling to wear them properly.
Unfortunately, people are people and my friends that work in the local service industry indicated their frustration with those that didn’t want to comply and how nasty they could be when asked to to do so. It still blows my mind how doing such a small simple thing to ensure public safety can be so controversial.
Like wearing a mask, sanitizing tables after guests leave seems like a simple enough thing. As I mentioned, the Mitten did a great job keeping on top of this task. Most of the places we visited were continually wiping down surfaces and touch points.
Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor did a good job expanding the outdoor seating area for their cafe to provide adequate social distancing. Instead of ordering at the counter inside of their small cafe, you now order at an outdoor host stand and then they deliver the food to your table. The line to order is well marked for social distance between waiting guests.
Although they did well with most of the safety protocols, they were very lax in sanitizing tables as guests were leaving. I never saw one table get wiped down or sanitized and several were eventually repopulated with new guests without having been cleaned at all.
Hop Lot Brewing in Suttons Bay gets my vote for best in Covid-19 Safety Protocols of any place we visited. We planned to have dinner their one night because they have great beer, awesome food and lots of outdoor space.
When we arrived, we needed to come through a new gate area in order to be seated. On the way to our table, the Host explained all the new rules and procedures that had been put into place due to the virus. The outdoor space at Hop Lot is usually a very communal area with corn hole games and fire pits bringing people together. But now there were signs all around indicating masks must be warn and that guests were supposed to remain at their tables. People were being very respectful of the rules, which indicates to me that Hop Lot has done a good job enforcing them thus far.
I noticed during our visit that the tables were arranged for even more space than usual between them. There were signs on the table with a QR code that allowed you to order food and beverages right from your phone. Your tab remains open until you are ready to check out, so you can continue to order throughout the evening. At first I was a bit apprehensive of using this new method, but I ended up liking it quite well.
There was also a coffee table placed about 3 feet away from the end of each of the guest tables at Hop Lot. Whenever you place an order on your phone, a server would deliver the order to the coffee table. You were instructed to wait until after they had left before bringing the items to your table. I thought this was pretty creative.
Several of the local wineries have gone to Reservation Only for visitors. In order to reduce contact, most wineries also only allow you to order a flight instead of doing a standard tasting. I think that actually works out very well. If you are planning to visit any of these establishments right now, it is best to do your research first. Go to their websites to see what new rules or procedures have been put into place so that you don’t get disappointed when you arrive.
On the day we were leaving, we decided to have lunch at one of our favorite places, Shorts Brewery in Bellaire. I follow them on social media, and knew that in order to do so I would need to first make a reservation. They ask you to wait in your car upon arrival until you are notified by text that your table is ready. Once inside, the tables are very well spaced out and all proper safety protocols are being followed. I felt very safe during our visit.
These new protocols and expanded outdoor spaces have worked well in Michigan since places have been allowed to reopen this summer. However, our weather is about to to make that a challenge. I have read many recent articles about how businesses are trying to come up with alternative ideas on how they can continue to serve guests and keep them safe once the weather turns.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so I am sure they will find a lot of creative ideas on how to handle this issue. Some places have utilized outdoor igloos with small patio heaters in the past few years to extend their outdoor seating season. I expect that you will see an increase in this trend this year.
It was good to see all the different ways these businesses have found so far to continue to stay open while keeping both their staff and guests safe. I really appreciated their efforts and felt comfortable wherever we visited.
What creative ways have you seen for businesses to keep staff and guests safe during this pandemic?
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