Parties of diners must be 6 feet apart — even at a bar. And groups are limited to parties of eight. Windows should be open. Air conditioners need to have the least circulation possible. Customers must wear masks, except specifically when they are eating. Employees must wear masks at all times.
And the overall number of people in an establishment is capped at 25%.
We’re betting you get the idea by now: Gov. Phil Murphy announced a return of indoor dining on Monday — a return that will start Friday, in time for Labor Day weekend. But there will be plenty of regulations and restrictions.
Murphy, at his COVID-19 briefing Monday, called it an “exhaustive” list. And, as usual, threatened to pull back on the opening if he doesn’t like what he sees.
“This resumption of indoor dining will come with strong limits on capacities, as well as other requirements which will be strictly enforced,” he said. “As we all know, this pandemic isn’t over yet, and our goal is to ensure this step is done properly to prevent the kind of spikes we saw in other states that allowed their restaurants to reopen too fully and too quickly — steps which required us to hit the pause button on our earlier to plan to allow indoor dining to resume.”
Here are more specifics on the guidelines:
- Social distancing: All groups of diners will be required to be kept a minimum of 6 feet apart;
- Masks, part I: All staff will be required to wear masks at all times. All diners will be required to wear masks at all times when they are not in their seats. Any customer who either does not wear, or refuses to wear, a face mask absent a legitimate medical reason cannot be seated indoors.
- Masks, part II: Diners must keep their masks on while waiting for their food, and once they are finished eating or drinking. Food and beverages can only be consumed while seated. Walking around with a drink indoors will not be allowed.
- Table service: If you are dining at a restaurant that provides table service, you will only be able to order your food while seated at your table, and the staff are the only ones who can bring you your food or beverage. In other words, no ordering on your own at the bar.
- Bar service: Restaurants that provide food service at their bars may allow patrons to dine at the bar, providing that all diners are kept at proper social distances. A couple seated at the bar, for example, may sit together, but cannot have anyone else on either side of them for at least 6 feet. And, any group seated together at the bar is capped at four individuals.
- Ventilation: Windows must be opened to ensure a proper flow of fresh air into the dining areas. Additionally, air conditioner units must be turned so that they are allowing for the maximum amount of outdoor air to be introduced to the dining area, and that the amount of air being recirculated is set to its lowest possible setting.
Murphy said these guidelines were created with much consideration.
“We have been working hard for several months now to get to this point,” he said. “After the pull-back from our initial July target date, we committed that we would not put ourselves in a similar position again, and that we would not allow for indoor dining to resume until we had confidence that we would move forward. I am proud that we are doing this today so our restaurants can again welcome patrons to their dining rooms for the long holiday weekend.
“I have said many times that this was simply a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’ And, I thank the many restaurant owners across the state who thought creatively to serve their diners in the meantime, using outdoor seating — and I also thank the many local officials who helped foster such creativity. There is no doubt that many restaurants will continue offering outdoor seating options, especially because many New Jerseyans will continue to feel more comfortable eating outside.”
Murphy gave a shout out to the restaurant industry (see its reaction here).
“I know it has been hard on many of you,” he said. “The restaurant industry is not only a huge employer in our state, but New Jersey is home to many noted dining establishments that draw patrons from all over. My goal has always been to get to ‘yes.’”
Murphy said the goal now is to increase the capacity.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Holmdel), a frequent critic of the governor, said that day can’t come soon enough.
“The needless torture of this industry continues,” he said. “The time for 25% was two months ago, when it could be justified as a test as we reopened. But other states have shown that it’s safe, with proper precautions, to open at 50% or higher. The science isn’t different in New Jersey.
“The delay in opening was devastating. To make up for that wasted time, we must get to higher capacity limits as soon as possible.”
O’Scanlon, like others, said it’s all about the bottom line.
“The 25% capacity isn’t enough for the overwhelming majority of restaurants to turn a profit,” he said. “Every day that goes by in which we fail to accept these facts kills more of these businesses and destroys more lives.”