Restaurants and catering halls say the government won't listen to them about indoor dining, but maybe they'll listen to people who like to dine out.

That's the idea behind a public awareness campaign being launched by three New Jersey organizations representing the restaurant and hospitality industry. With the "Restaurants are Essential Too" campaign, table tents, placemats and takeout delivery flyers in dozens of locations will be marked with a QR code that directs people to a webpage detailing what they say are the industry's troubles and suggesting how to take action.

"Our goal is to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people around the state to reach out to the governor and their local politicians by educating them on this dire situation which continues to worsen," said Harry Mihas, chairman of Pan Gregorian Enterprises.

Gov. Phil Murphy has signaled recently he might soon once again allow indoor dining, barred since the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey in March. Outdoor dining was able to resume on June 15. But days before a previously anonunced July 2 launch date for limited indoor dining, Gov. Phil Murphy pulled the plug on the idea, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases in other states and outdoor restaurant patrons in New Jersey failing to follow safety protocols.

Industry groups say they've tried to get the governor's ear, but with no luck.

The Kenilworth-based group, which represents about 1,000 diners, restaurants and catering halls throughout the Garden State and parts of Pennsylvania, recently formed an alliance with Delaware Valley Purchasing Group and the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association to shed light on the damage done to the state's largest private sector employer since indoor dining was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephen Pantagis, with the wedding venue Pantagis Renaissance in Scotch Plains, came to PGE with the idea for the campaign.

"After months of laid-off employees and customers asking us what they could do to help, we decided to start a grassroots effort," Pantagis said.

Key metrics related to the transmission of COVID-19 in New Jersey have improved significantly in the weeks since Murphy reversed course on indoor dining, but the Murphy Administration has not revealed any specific benchmarks that must be met in order to revisit the idea of indoor dining. Reporters have asked for such thresholds several times.

At Murphy's coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday, the governor did hint that a relaunch for indoor dining could be coming sooner than later. When asked about a rumored date of Sept. 14, Murphy said he hopes "it's before then."

"Twenty-five percent (of normal capacity allowed) would've been good back in July. At this point, 25% is really nothing," said Pan Gregorian president Jimmy Logothetis. "At 50%, the restaurants at least will be breaking even."

Logothetis, who owns The Candlewyck Diner in East Rutherford, said time is running out for patrons to comfortably eat outdoors. His eatery is permitted to have a tent on site until Nov. 1.

"At 50%, the patrons are more than six feet away from each other," Logothetis said of diners. "At 50% capacity, the restaurant owners can operate them very safely for our customers."

According to the campaign, nearly 300,000 people remain unemployed due to limits for full-service restaurants, diners and venues.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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