One bright note during the pandemic has been watching our city’s people and businesses pull together to help one another. To that end, the City of Grand Rapids and Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. partner to expand the use of public spaces through the creation of social zones. The downtown social zones include: Monroe North, Bridge Street, Center City, and Heartside/Ionia Avenue. 

Heartside social zone in front of HopCat

Enjoy food and beverages outdoors in the downtown Social Zones.

Photo Credit: Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids


What Can I Expect in a Social Zone? 

Within the four zones, you can grab takeout and purchase beer, wine, or alcohol to consume in common public areas (more on that below). The city has set up 200 tables and 800 chairs throughout the zones for this purpose, all of which are spaced at least 6 feet apart. 

“It offers another option for customers who are more comfortable eating outside,” explains Lou Canfield, Development Manager, City of Grand Rapids. “Think of it like an outdoor food court. You can eat food purchased from anywhere or brought from home.” Of course, the idea is to support local restaurants, so take-out is a great option. 

Is Alcohol Allowed?

Within social zones, alcohol is allowed in three different ways.

  1. Some restaurants have established outdoor dining areas with table service. These places are defined within social zones by signs, planters, and other barriers. You can order alcoholic beverages from your server, just as you would at any place that offers al fresco dining. These drinks must be consumed while seated at the restaurant's table and cannot be taken elsewhere.
  2. Restaurants that don't offer a defined space can still sell alcoholic beverages for purchase. These will come in sealed to-go containers that can be consumed at the open-seating tables within the social zone.
  3. The City of Grand Rapids has also approved three social districts, also known as Refreshment Areas: Bridge St, Monroe North, and downtown (known as the Arena/Hotel refreshment area). This designation allows businesses within those areas to apply for a permit from the Michigan Liquor Control Board to sell alcoholic beverages in a specially-marked cup that customers may enjoy in the within the district, including social zones. Restaurants that do not offer specific outdoor seating can still offer these types of beverages once they've received approval. Keep in mind that while you can walk around with these drinks, you cannot take them into other businesses and you must remain within the Refreshment Area's boundaries while you're enjoying your beverage. Additional information on Refreshment Areas can be found on the Social Zone page and on DGRI's website.

Are Social Zones Just for Restaurants?

In addition to providing a boost for local restaurants, the social zones also allow other businesses, like retail and exercise studios, to use outdoor public spaces. That means you may see more “sidewalk sale” type of displays outside of retail shops and you can get a workout done outdoors in a public space, even though your gym remains closed. “We’ve given them a blank canvas to work on, and they can spill into those places,” explains Mark Miller, Managing Director of Planning & Design for Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.

The front of The Winchester with its expanded outdoor patio.

Some businesses have applied for permits to set up their own social zones, including The Winchester in Uptown.

Photo Credit: Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids


Are the Social Zones only Downtown?

Although the four major social zones outlined on the map are located downtown in Grand Rapids, the social zones aren’t limited to those boundaries. 

Some businesses have applied for permits to set up their own social zones, including The Mitten Brewing Company's “The Outfield,” Amore Trattoria Italiana north of downtown, and several businesses in the Uptown area that are offering outdoor seating, like The Winchester, Donkey Taqueria, Elk Brewing, Outside Coffee, Royals, and Zivio.

Where Can I Park?

The City of Grand Rapids has a webpage that provides detailed information about street parking and parking lots, as well as information on using the free DASH bus service to park inexpensively and ride to the social zones. (Masks are required when riding DASH.)

We’ve put in hand sanitizing stations downtown and our ambassadors sanitize the tables in the social zones at least three times a day. We all want people to feel safe about coming downtown.

What COVID precautions are being taken?

“DGRI has worked hand-in-hand with the City of Grand Rapids and a number of other partners with the same goal -- helping people feel safe enough to come downtown,” Miller explains. “It’s been a very collaborative effort. 

“We’ve put in hand sanitizing stations downtown and our ambassadors sanitize the tables in the social zones at least three times a day. We all want people to feel safe about coming downtown.” In addition to the sanitizing efforts, social distancing and masks are encouraged (since you’re outside). All tables in the social zones are at least six feet apart.

For more detailed information, check our Social Zones page, which outlines each social zone’s boundaries and what businesses you can find within each zone.

Never miss a post!
Subscribe to the Insider Experience blog.