Gov. Phil Murphy's announcement that dine-in service would be allowed to resume at 25% capacity by week's end electrified restaurant owners, although some fear it may not be enough to survive, especially as the winter months loom.
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On Monday, Murphy tweeted that restaurants would be allowed to serve guests inside for the first time since March at a limited capacity, with social distancing between tables, beginning on Sept. 4. The directive effectively ends a months-long struggle of fitting a few guests on sidewalks and streets or in some cases even having to limit operations to takeout and delivery only.
Although the announcement was surprising, Grace Sciancalepore, owner of Leo's Grandevous in Hoboken, said it's been “a long time coming."
Just hours after news broke, Sciancalepore told FOX Business that the restaurant is "excited" and "grateful" for this small step to begin reverting back to pre-pandemic operations and that her staff is already preparing supplies for Friday. The Italian eatery will be implementing plexiglass barriers in between tables and has a special cleaner with peroxide to sanitize.
However, Sciancalepore hopes capacity will increase soon, especially as the warm weather subsides, underscoring the problem restaurants may face when seating outside will no longer be feasible.
"Hopefully we can get up to at least 50 percent before the winter months come in," she said.
Chris Siversen, the executive chef and owner of Maritime Parc in Jersey City, agrees, saying that 50% capacity is the "minimum seating to be able to actually survive."
“I'm glad to see a step in the right direction although [I] would have liked to have seen more notice given, as restaurants that have remained closed, such as ours, need more time to get everything in order, " Siversen said. "I still think we need 50% minimum seating to be able to actually survive and hope the increase happens sooner rather than later."
In June, Murphy permitted outdoor dining at food or beverage establishments. Previously, establishments with or without a liquor or limited brewery license were limited to offering delivery and takeout services only, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Sciancalepore was one of many owners who were able to utilize an outdoor patio for seating. Others reverted to using the sidewalk, with some places even encroaching onto parts of the street in order to serve as many customers as possible.
Others, however, weren't so lucky. One of them: Jerry’s Pizza & Restaurant in Jersey City.
The pizza joint had to rely on takeout and delivery since March because they had no room for outdoor seating, owner Jerry Ortes told FOX Business, adding that Monday's directive is "long overdue."
"It's about time," Ortes said. "I'm so happy it is going to be opening day, it's like a racehorse ready to race."
Ortes said his customers have been continually asking him when dine-in service at his restaurant would be allowed.
"It's great we are finally able to have our customers come inside and sit down, it's what they have been wanting to do," he said. "We have just been getting by day by day."
Even still, restaurant owners are staying cautious as the state continues to relax restrictions, especially as the virus continues to spread.
Siversen noted that the new directive "doesn’t change the looming concern if another pullback occurs, which would essentially negate the investment toward reopening."
Regardless, restaurants all have the same goal: achieve a high capacity.
"Now we need to stay resilient on the proper precautions to keep our guests and employees safe, but also achieve a higher percentage quickly," said Ryan DePersio, executive chef and owner of Fascino in Montclair. DePersio is also the executive chef at Battello in Jersey City and executive chef and partner at The Kitchen Step in Jersey City.