Outdoor dining in New Jersey amid the pandemic has reached a new crossroads as restaurants are making plans to either persevere or close after the winter holidays.

“In the interest of good business, municipalities are encouraged to waive permit fees for tents to remain in use past November 30, provided that the tents meet the snow bearing requirements,” according to the written guidance issued on Nov. 25 by the state Department of Community Affairs. The state has pre-existing requirements for such temporary outdoor structures as of Dec. 1.

In addition to being given that timeline when restaurants first put up tents over the summer, many local fire officials also did reach out to alert permit holders that the Nov. 30 date was coming, a DCA spokesperson said.

New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association President Marilou Halvorsen said that it’s a “mixed bag” of results as of Wednesday, as some communities have followed the state’s recommendation and not charged fees, while some others still are.

She said establishments did “fairly well” for Thanksgiving, as they saw smaller parties of two and four people comfortable with dining under the 25% indoor capacity restriction thanks to commercial ventilation systems and other safety protocols.

The state also issued a two-week extension for restaurants either going through the permit process, or for other owners who decide to dismantle dining tents due to riskier weather conditions.

For restaurants that plan to literally weather the storm and keep offering outdoor dining this winter, state code requires a snow plan as part of its permit process. That can include either heating a tent to prevent accumulation or taking it down during periods of inclement weather, according to the DCA.

Halvorsen said she has heard from a good deal of restaurant owners who have decided to close after Christmas and New Year’s for at least the start of 2021 – adding for some, it may be for good.

Halvorsen said it’s important for New Jerseyans to continue to support their local restaurants, either by buying gift certificates, ordering take out or dining in-person whenever possible.

Halvorsen also suggested families think “creatively” when it comes to the winter holidays, such as picking up dinner entrees and then “Zooming” to enjoy the meal together from a distance, with loved ones beyond their household.

Under state regulations, dining "domes," igloos or bubbles permitted by executive order for outdoor dining can continue to be used through the winter without a new permit, when each is smaller than 120 square feet and when they are able to be taken down on a daily basis, if needed, amid hazardous weather.

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