Restaurants pushing for Friday reopening of outdoor dining

The numbers were telling: 83 on Friday, 83 on Saturday, 70 on Sunday — and zero for the weekend.

Restaurateurs throughout the state could only lament another lost weekend, one where three beautiful, warm days — perfect for outdoor dining — brought in no revenue. They are hoping next weekend will be different.

At least, that’s the aim of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, which is calling for the opening of outdoor eating this Friday — and the opening of 50%-capacity indoor eating June 15.

Marilou Halvorsen, the CEO of the NJRHA, said the industry — which provided a plan for reopening to the governor more than a month ago — is losing precious time.

Courtesy photos
Asm. Serena DiMaso and Sen. Declan O’Scanlon.

“We know what we’re doing and we’re ready to take that next step,” she said. “Every day in June is like 10-15 days in the wintertime. It’s just critical for our success.”

June traditionally has been the second-highest month for gross tax receipts for restaurants, trailing only December.

Those receipts are as critical as ever, according to state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, both of whom are Republicans representing Monmouth County and issued a joint statement calling for an immediate opening of outdoor dining.

“The governor has said that we are weeks off from seeing restaurants reopen in some capacity,” they said. “The problem is that our restaurant owners do not have weeks to wait anymore.

“There are 350,000 New Jersey restaurant workers on unemployment right now. Every week that we wait is another week that keeps these workers unemployed.”

Halvorsen stressed the industry should be trusted to take safety issues seriously for two reasons.

“Other than health care, who does sanitization better than we do?” she said. “It is engrained in our daily protocol.”

In fact, Halvorsen said, it’s personal.

“A lot of our restaurants are family-owned and have their whole family working there,” she said. “They not only don’t want to risk the health of their customers; they’re not going to want to risk infecting their whole family.”

Safety concerns are now a part of everyday life, she said.

“The reality is, sitting outside with your family at a restaurant is a lot safer than walking into a crowded Home Depot or Lowe’s,” she said.

Sen. Vin Gopal.

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) also is supportive of the measure, saying broad amounts of medical data have indicated the virus is far less dangerous when it’s outside.

“New Jersey is making real, measurable progress on expanding testing and implementing contact tracing,” he said. “Once we lift the ban on outdoor dining, I strongly believe that we can keep our infection curve flattened by keeping clear social distancing safeguards in place.”

Another concern is the curve on revenue. Gopal agreed the need for a speedy reopening is strong.

“Hundreds of restaurants have already gone out of business, and it is clear that we must make real, swift moves forward to allow those remaining to open up before it’s too late,” he said. “These small businesses deserve our support and guidance, and we cannot afford to let them wait any longer.

“I’ve previously called for municipalities to provide additional room for customers by allowing restaurants to use public spaces for outdoor dining; with the proper precautions, outdoor dining is one of our lowest-risk opportunities for reopening.”

Halvorsen said she’s optimistic — and hopeful the governor’s recent announcements regarding the upcoming reopenings of child care centers, youth sports, horse racing and summer camps will clear the way for the industry. Even more, she hates the idea that New Jersey is behind some of its neighboring states and thus sending dollars out of state.

“I think that the governor understands the balancing of the economic needs with health concerns,” she said. “I hope the governor is listening and the message is resonating, and he allows us to do what we want to do.”

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