By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
Gov. Phil Murphy Monday morniong announced on his Twitter feed that indoor dining with certain restrictions would be permitted starting Friday, Sept. 4.
“Restaurants statewide will be able to open for indoor dining beginning this FRIDAY at 25% capacity and with social distancing between tables. Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19.”
He is scheduled to elaborate on the issue during a coronavirus briefing scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday.
The governor had planned to reopen restaurants for indoor dining with the 25% restriction prior to July 4, but a spike in cases and videos of bar patrons gathering without observing social distancing protocols made him change his mind.
The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which in January will be called the Board of County Commissioners, Aug. 18 unanimously passed a resolution urging Murphy to allow indoor dining with limited capacity. Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica called the board’s unanimous approval “as apolitical as a resolution can be,” and would prevent restaurants operating on the fringe from closing permanently.
When several freeholders questioned how the 25% limitation would be enforced, Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce President Michael Chait said that “public shaming” resulting from not adhering to the regulation would be enough to encourage restaurant owners to comply.
NJ Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo said reopening for indoor dining is long overdue.
“This is a key step in helping our restaurants and casinos catch what’s left of the summer season. This is also a huge step towards helping Atlantic County families get back to work. I look forward to continuing to support local businesses opening up indoor dining and look forward to our casinos being able to better serve guest and hire back hard working employees,” he said in a Facebook post.
Margate Business Association President Ed Berger said local business owners have struggled financially this summer.
“It has been a long wait, and an expensive one for all of our restaurants in Margate who have struggled through this shutdown. The costs from the false start earlier this summer will hopefully be offset for some by the grant and loan program that was announced if it gets signed by the governor. We are pleased that our restaurants can again start limited indoor service, but truthfully 25% capacity may not be close to enough to cover the financial cost of doing it,” he said in a statement.
Alicia Santucci, owner of Santucci’s Original Square Pizza in Ventnor said she heard about the governor’s remarks from her staff.
“They have been sending me text messages saying they are so excited,” she said.
Although she would prefer a full opening, “25% is better than nothing,” she said.
The restaurant opened for the first time in May after a nearly two-year rebuilding project that converted a hardware store into a restaurant with a second floor outdoor bar area.
“Opening indoors will give people an option when the weather doesn’t cooperate. We had the best summer considering we opened during the height of the pandemic.”
Restrictions imposed on indoor dining are expected to mirror those for outdoor dining – spacing tables 6 feet apart, limiting the number of diners per table to 6 people, mask wearing for patrons except when eating, requiring all servers to wear face masks at all times, and frequent sanitizing high touch areas.
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