Outdoor dining in fall, winter? Restaurants push NJ to ease restrictions
So far so good.
It’s been 20 days since Gov. Murphy allowed New Jersey restaurants to resume indoor dining service, at a 25% limited capacity, and health officials have not detected any spike or uptick in COVID-19 cases linked to any specific restaurant.
But now there’s a new problem.
As the month of October fast approaches, the days are becoming shorter, the nights are getting cooler or downright cold, and restaurants that have been offering outdoor dining may soon have to abandon that service completely.
Marilou Halvorsen, the president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said this presents a serious problem.
“Without having outdoor dining to supplement the 25%, you’ll see fewer restaurants open because it just doesn’t make sense to open for just a couple of tables," she said.
“People are seeing their comfort level is increasing, they’re going to restaurants they’re familiar with,” she said.
On Wednesday, Murphy was asked what he needs to see in order to increase indoor dining capacity to 50%.
“A sustained lack of outbreaks — I can’t tell you when — would ultimately lead to a decision on capacity," he said.
“I don’t have a specific answer. I don’t think (Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli) does. But it’s something we’re looking at and we hope sooner than later.”
Halvorsen pointed out many restaurants will need to increase indoor capacity to 50% in order to be able to survive.
“It would be great by the end of September. We only see the weather getting colder and colder. People are just not going to sit outside so you’re only going to have that 25% indoor," she said.
Some restaurants have outdoor heaters but Halvorsen pointed out they’re expensive, some towns don’t allow them and “unless you’re right on top of that heater, it’s going to be cold and people are going to be sitting there with their mittens and their gloves on pretty soon.”
Murphy noted that allowing any indoor dining “was a step we took with great trepidation. We held off, particularly based on what we saw in other states.”
He also said he’s hoping federal lawmakers approve “another big slug” of funding for the states, which is especially important for smaller businesses like restaurants and those in the hospitality industry.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com