NEW JERSEY - Restaurants across New Jersey were allowed to reopen their doors to diners on Friday as of 6 a.m. following an announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this week that enough progress had been made in the battle against the coronavirus.
"NEW: Restaurants statewide will be able to open for indoor dining beginning this FRIDAY at 25% capacity and with social distancing between tables," said Murphy via Twitter. "Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19."
Some of the restrictions include workers and employees must wear masks at all times except when eating. Children under 2 are exempt from the mask requirement. Restaurants must practice enhanced deep cleaning. Table sizes will be at a maximum of eight people. No gathering anywhere in the restaurant.
Restaurants and bars were ordered closed by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on March 16 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On June 15, outdoor dining at restaurants and bars and nonessential in-person retail was allowed to resume in New Jersey. Indoor dining had remained banned leaving many restaurant owners questioning the governor's decision making. Many feared they could not survive much longer with revenue solely from limited outdoor dining, take out and delivery.
Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said Murphy's Monday announcement was “unfortunately long overdue."
Murphy had initially said indoor dining could reopen before the July 4 holiday, but changed his mind, citing worsening figures. That decision was met with criticism, including from Siekerka, who said the state's businesses couldn't take advantage of the “prime summer season" and lost patrons to open restaurants in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Jack Ciattarelli, a former member of the Assembly, is running for the GOP nomination for governor to take on Murphy next year. He also called the decision long overdue and said if health conditions permit, then capacity should be increased incrementally, rising to 50% by November.
Restaurants can’t make a profit on 25% capacity, said Eileen Kean, the the director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Jersey, adding that Murphy should consider expanding the limit to 50% and full capacity soon.
Kaiafas, the diner owner, said he's hopeful to be at 50% capacity in three or four weeks and fully opened sometime this year.
Atlantic City’s nine casinos have also been chomping at the bit to resume indoor dining, saying the ban has seriously hurt their business.
One of the consequences of the indoor dining ban in the gambling halls is the prohibition of the traditional serving of beverages on the casino floor.
That would presumably be allowed to resume on Friday, although Murphy did not specifically mention casinos in his announcement. Still, the casinos are excited to be able to offer even limited indoor dining as the crucial Labor Day weekend approaches.
“We are very pleased to resume indoor dining this Friday allowing us to bring valued team members back to work,” said Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock casino. “We have seen tremendous success with our outdoor dining venues, although weather variables have been a real challenge. Opening indoor dining brings back a key amenity that our guests know, love and deserve.”
Gyms, health fitness centers, and indoor amusements were allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity starting Tuesday.