Murphy signs bill that clarifies, extends rules on outdoor dining

During a Facebook Live event in which all participants were indoors — and just days after a snowstorm dropped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of the state — Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that will expand opportunities for outdoor dining in New Jersey.

The bill (S3340) sets forth a framework for municipalities to allow restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries to utilize outdoor spaces or public sidewalks as extensions of their business premises.

The bill — or a version of the bill — had twice passed both the state Senate and the General Assembly unanimously. And it comes a day after Murphy increased capacity for indoor dining from 25% to 35% and eliminated the 10 p.m. mandatory closing for restaurants, bars and catering halls.

The bill extends the effective period of permits issued under an Alcoholic Beverage Control special ruling made last summer that allowed licensees to expand the premises where they can serve alcoholic beverages to include outdoor spaces. Restaurants will now be able to maintain the permit through Nov. 30, 2022, or the date at which indoor dining returns to full capacity at restaurants — whichever is later. In a signing statement, Murphy noted that this extension will be automatic for all permitholders.

The bill also establishes protocols for municipalities to review and approve outdoor space expansion requests by restaurants without liquor licenses and those with liquor licenses that have not previously obtained expansion permits.

The legislation also authorizes the ABC to create a seasonal farm market permit to allow a holder of a limited brewery license, restricted brewery license, craft distillery license, plenary winery license, farm winery license, or cidery and meadery license to sell any of the licensee’s products in original containers at a seasonal farm market for off-premises consumption. The permit could be a daily or annual permit.

Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and was one of the sponsors of the bill, said it is necessity for the industry going forward — the impact of which will be felt long after Super Bowl Sunday.

“This is timely, important and desperately needed by the restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries that are struggling to survive the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis,” he said. “It’s about more than the Super Bowl. The months ahead will be pivotal for their ability to stay in business, keep their employees on the payroll and contribute to the economic viability of the communities they serve. This will allow for a measured expansion that will maintain the health and safety of workers and customers and allow the businesses to plan ahead with more certainty. They are key contributors to local communities throughout the state.”

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) another sponsor, agreed.

“This common-sense measure will bring immediate help to our restaurants, bars and breweries by streamlining application procedures in order to serve more patrons outdoors,” he said. “After suffering so much loss in the past year due to the pandemic, this will greatly enhance prospects for these businesses, especially as we approach the coming season on the Jersey Shore.”

Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) said the bill has an eye toward spring.

“This law will help our small and local businesses in the food and beverage industry who are part of the lifeblood of our communities, and who have suffered such a detrimental impact during the restricted bar and restaurant hours brought on by the pandemic,” she said. “As we look towards the spring, we must do all we can to help these businesses survive and thrive in the months ahead.”