Restaurant association desperate to resume indoor dining — or even hear from Murphy

The National Restaurant Association estimates that 30% of New Jersey restaurants will have to close permanently due to the impact of COVID-19.

With the industry on the brink of collapse, Marilou Halvorsen, the head of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said businesses are desperate to come up with a plan to try to survive the increased costs they’re seeing.

Marilou Halvorsen.

“It could be in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Halvorsen said. “Especially those (restaurants) that weren’t open at all … they were starting from scratch, so they spent significant money.”

Marilyn Schlossbach, chair of the NJRHA and owner of Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, agreed. She emphasized that the degree of the costs varies based on each individual situation.

“We have increased labor costs because we had to bring more people on, increased sanitation costs,” she said. “There’s all kinds of different costs depending on where you are, what you had before and what you’ll have going forward.”

These concerns were discussed Monday morning in a virtual news conference set up by the NJRHA. Joining Halvorsen and Schlossbach were representatives from some of the state’s largest venue and restaurant owners. In addition to addressing concerns, Halvorsen also announced the association has updated and resubmitted its plan for indoor dining, initially sent to Gov. Phil Murphy in back in May.

“Two additions that we included were that all guests must be seated while eating and drinking, and there will be no bar seating permitted,” she said. “Right now, we are calling for 25% (capacity).”

The adjustments to the proposal have partially been based on the success seen in other states with their own dining plans.

“We’ve seen (success) in Connecticut,” Halvorsen said. “They had 25% and now they’re up to 50% without a huge increase (in cases).”

Despite optimism, however, the NJRHA said it has not heard from the governor since resubmitting the proposal and has gotten no timetable on when representatives could meet with him to discuss it.

“We were told last week that the governor would not be able to meet with us,” Halvorsen said. “We had hoped that he would sit down with a larger group of members — not just for us to ask him about what the plans are, but for him to get comfortable with us.”

Now in a desperate waiting game with the Governor’s Office, Halvorsen also encouraged all those worried about the state of the restaurant industry to get involved.

“Reach out to the Governor’s Office because, at this point, it really is his decision,” she said. “Talk to your elected official. Pick up the phone, call the Governor’s Office. Tweet at the governor … I encourage all our employees and customers to do what you can to help us.”

In addition to the proposal, the association also discussed its new #IServeJersey campaign. Over the next 30 days, the NJRHA will release short videos from restaurateurs around the state sharing their own personal experiences and challenges they’ve faced during the shutdown.

Meetings with other elected officials besides the governor are also in the works, Halvorsen said.

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