Numerous restaurants enjoyed the return of indoor dining over Labor Day weekend. And, while all are looking for Gov. Phil Murphy to increase the maximum capacity past the current 25%, he warned last Friday that the number could go in the other direction, too.
“The limits we have placed on capacities, and the public health protocols we have put in place are not kind suggestions — they are mandated,” Murphy said. “We will not tolerate any violations, and we will not be afraid to come down hard and make an example of those who think the rules don’t apply to them.
“We want you to welcome your customers back inside, but that must be done safely and in accordance with the rules.”
Murphy said he hopes he doesn’t have to repeat what happened in July — when the plan to open indoor dining was reversed before it started.
“We took that step on the last Monday in June with a heavy heart,” he said. “If we think things are getting out of hand, we absolutely reserve that right, but we’re not doing this anticipating that that is going to happen.”
Without giving specifics — or a timeline — Murphy said he is eager to increase the number.
“There is nothing more I would like to do than to eventually expand restaurant capacities — but, I cannot and will not be able to do that if this weekend, and the weeks to follow, see a slew of restaurant owners and managers flagrantly violating the rules in that are in place,” he said.
To prove the point, Murphy pointed to the fact that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal revoked the liquor license of a restaurant, Il Portico in Burlington City, for a variety of executive order violations stemming from a large and unruly July Fourth gathering that exceeded 500 people.
“We have been very clear that the restrictions we have put in place are there to protect public health and save lives — and that goes whether it pertains to a restaurant, or a gym, or any business,” he said.
“And, when a selfish owner or manager flagrantly violates these orders, they not only put in danger the progress we’ve made, they give a black eye to many more business owners who continue to play by the rules.
“I am grateful to Attorney General Grewal and his team, and the team at the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, for their work in this action.”