The vaguely worded regulation leads to confusion and misinterpretation of the rule. Restaurant owners have been confused by the rule for so long that it isn't questioned anymore.
The rule states is that a licensee shall ensure the area is "well defined and clearly marked."
The MLCC is aware of the confusion that the wording of the rule has caused. The agency has done some staff training to remedy the regulation's lack of clarity.
Municipalities can mandate fencing through zoning laws at a local level, but Grand Rapids has never required fences.
The Sundance Grill in Grand Rapids went without an outdoor patio fence when it moved to the Ottawa Tavern spot at Ottawa Avenue and Pearl Street NW. Flowerpots mark the restaurant’s defined seating area. The rule doesn't say anything about fencing or complete physical barriers.
As a matter of fact, the city feels it is better to have less fencing so that customers can enjoy the streetscape and the sidewalk feels more open and attractive.
The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (now Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.) encouraged Sundance to go fence-free because the city sees them as an impediment to pedestrian flow on the sidewalk.
Some establishments prefer their fences. Restaurant owners worry about people seating themselves then having to have a hostess stand outside. Some say fences make some customers more comfortable, since they keep pedestrians and panhandlers from getting mixed-up in the tables.
The outdoor seating season in Michigan is here. You might see the fences removed from some Grand Rapids bars and restaurants' outdoor patios this year.