N.J. lifts 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants/bars, increases indoor capacity to 35%

Bars and restaurants will be able to stay open later than 10 p.m. — just in time for Super Bowl Sunday. And they will be able to have a few more customers, too.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday morning that the state is relaxing its indoor dining restrictions, allowing restaurants and bars to increase their capacity to 35% (up from 25%) while ending the 10 p.m. curfew. Seating at bars remains prohibited.

The new rules will go into place at 8 a.m. Friday morning — in time for Sunday’s big game.

Marilou Halvorsen, the CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said she was thrilled to hear the announcement.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Halvorsen said eliminating the 10 p.m. curfew will have the greatest impact — and not just on Super Bowl Sunday.

“That was really hurting every segment of the industry — fine dining and catering all the way down to bars and restaurants, the casual eateries,” she said. “So, that will be big.”

The news impacts many businesses.

Gyms, personal care businesses, amusement and recreation facilities — including casinos — also would be able to increase capacity to 35%. The maximum number of people allowed inside will remain capped at 150.

Murphy said he will sign the executive order because of recent trends in the state’s hospitals and the rate of transmission — noting the number of hospitalizations has been reduced by approximately 20% since Jan. 13.

“We believe that we can make this expansion without leading to undue stress or further stress on our health care system,” he said. “And, let there be no mistake, the proprietors have done an exceptional job. But, so much of the credit needs to go to the millions of you who have taken your responsibility for ending this pandemic to heart through constant social distancing, wearing your face masks and just exercising common sense.”

Murphy did caution that the state will closely monitor the situation, including an increase of the COVID-19 variants. And he did say local officials will be allowed to set their own closing hours after 8 p.m.

Halvorsen said she hopes today’s announcement will lead to more.

“The numbers are improving — the rate of transmission is going down — and there are more vaccines out there,” she said. “As the numbers improve, hopefully, we’ll continue to see the industry reopen.”

The raising of capacity from 25% to 35% will not have that much financial impact, Halvorsen said. But she said she hopes that, within the next month, it will increase to 50%.

“I’m going to be a glass half-full person,” she said. “I see all of this as a positive for our industry.”

State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Holmdel) — who has long pushed for more reopening for restaurants and bars — praised the move.

“We hope this is the first step in a continual loosening of restrictions that will help thousands of sidelined employees in the hospitality industry get back to work,” he said.