NJ Indoor Dining Will Resume Friday, Murphy Announces
New Jersey will once again allow indoor dining this Friday, at limited capacity, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday morning.
Murphy had been saying for several days an announcement on indoor dining — barred since shortly after the start of novel coronavirus hit New Jersey in March — could be coming shortly.
Murphy said in a tweet restaurant capacity would be limited to 25 percent, and social distancing would be required between tables.
The governor announced plans to allow indoor dining to resume on July 2, but just days prior to that reversed course, citing a series of large gatherings in New Jersey and a resurgent spread of coronavirus in other states that he said made indoor dining too risky.
In recent weeks, New Jersey officials have grappled with outright defiance of the dining ban from some restaurant owners. Among them, the Lakeside Diner in Lacey, which has since been charged with violating a court order. The state's battle with the diner saw the county's sheriff defy Murphy's executive order for an indoor coffee with the owner, and the municipality's mayor refuse to help board up the business. Ocean County freeholders protested continued restaurant closings, calling them "bulls---t" and Murphy a "socialist dictator."
Murphy himself dodged debunked rumors he'd dined indoors. Last week, he ate outdoors at a Middletown restaurant as police investigated whether another covered area where diners sat amounted to indoor seating despite having some open wall space.
The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association has pushed repeatedly for Murphy to allow indoor dining, citing statistics that show the spread of novel coronavirus has stayed low for months in New Jersey.
The association's leadership also expressed frustration Murphy wouldn't cite specific benchmarks or thresholds that would allow restaurants to reopen.
This weekend, prior to Murphy's announcement of the coming openings, the association published a letter from restaurateur Vic Rallo to its Facebook page:
"We have put up our tents, followed the rules and kept all of our staff and customers safe from the virus and the unexpected elements of the weather. We have gotten creative, a little beaten up and some of us are still standing," Rallo wrote. "But if something doesn’t give soon, the next wave of mom and pop restaurants will close. At this point all we want is for what is fair, and a chance."
He continued: I ask Governor Murphy to consider that 35% of all restaurants in the State are already permanently shuttered. I ask why has he chosen our industry to decimate? My father worked hard to give my brother and me an avenue to make a living in the communities we serve. He worked hard to give us a space to raise our families and see our children grow. What we’d like to know is why should this pandemic ruin that? Why would anyone want to ruin that? Why would anyone want to take that away?"
The association said Monday morning it was awaiting further guidance from the state and anticipated air ventilation-related restrictions.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association Monday, in a statement Monday morning, called the announcement "appreciated, but unfortunately long overdue."
“The fact is most restaurant owners were able to reopen their doors in a safe and responsible manner when they were originally permitted to do so with limited capacity on July 2," it said. "New Jersey essentially saw more than eight weeks of prime summer season go by the wayside, while our restaurant patrons went across the river to dine in Pennsylvania and Delaware. At the same time, any increase in transmission rates was ascribed to large outdoor parties."
The NJBIA said that even with indoor dining, limited capacity means "the odds are still long for restaurants to thrive with limited indoor capacity, particularly as we steer toward colder weather in the coming months when outdoor dining will not be as feasible."
"We are pleased that restaurants are finally getting their rightful opportunity to reopen indoor dining. But, for some, we hope it’s not too little, too late," the NJBIA said.
Murphy is scheduled to speak for his thrice-weekly coronavirus update at 1 p.m.