No more than eight people to a table. Plastic shields between you and the barkeep. Servers bringing your food on a cart. Waiting in your car for a table to open up. Eating at a table set up in the middle of a shut down main street. Temperature checks every day you show up for work. Wearing a face mask when not at your table.
When restaurants and bars can finally open in just over a week, they might resemble something strange and new for customers, as public health officials and businesses tinker with how to reopen while keeping down the risk of exposing more people to a contagious and deadly virus. But, foodies will still ultimately see a huge degree of familiarity as New Jersey rolls back restrictions on rules in place for months, in an effort to halt, or at least slow down, the spread of COVID-19 across the state.
Non-essential retail might be a bit more familiar still—the same rules that have been followed for months at “essential” businesses, such as pharmacies, home goods and grocery stores, will apply to these establishments.
At 6 a.m. on June 15, tens of thousands of bars and restaurants will be able to reopen for just outdoor dining, and non-essential retail at half capacity, under an executive order Gov. Phil Murphy signed on Wednesday evening.
That, and a public health directive from the New Jersey Department of Health, outline dozens of rules that restaurants, bars and retail have to follow should they wish to remain open.
“That’s to give folks the confidence that they can say ‘actually you know what? I can get out there and take my family to an outdoor dining experience beginning on June 15, or to a non-essential retail shop,’ ” the governor said at this daily COVID-19 press briefing earlier in the day at the Trenton War Memorial.
After all, New Jersey has, according to Murphy, entered stage two of its reopening, as the pandemic slows down.
And even with the rules in place, the dining experience could hopefully boast a large degree of familiarity for millions of residents hungry for a sit-down dining experience that has been beyond reach for over 10 weeks.
Indoor dining is still prohibited, though Murphy on June 2 said he would like to bring that back “sooner than later.”
What it looks like
Tables at restaurants will have to be spaced 6 feet apart. Gatherings are limited to eight people per table, and patrons need to maintain a 6-foot minimum distance from anyone outside of their group.
Face-coverings will have to be worn when away from their table.
Entry into the physical establishment is barred, except to access the restroom or to access outdoor dining areas, such as courtyards and rooftops. Patrons can also enter the restaurant for pick-up, or to place an order for takeout. In any case, they must wear a face covering while inside the restaurant.
Self-service options such as buffets and salad bars will not be allowed.
Tables, chairs and shared items, such as menus and pens, must be disinfected after each use. Restaurants must have installed physical barriers to divide customers from workers operating cash registers, bars and host stands.
That would be the same for retail, where shop owners must create physical barriers that would enforce social distancing – such as shield guards for cashiers and baggers – and designate floor markers 6 feet apart where customers would queue.
Retail and restaurant workers must undergo daily temperature and COVID-19 symptom checks, and those exhibiting symptoms must be sent home. Face-coverings need to be worn by employees at all times, while gloves are required when handing food and utensils to customers.
Symptom checks, face coverings and gloves need to be provided at the employer’s expense.
And in both the cases of retail and restaurants, high-touch areas such as credit card machines, keypads and counters need to be frequently sanitized.
Customers must be encouraged to make reservations in advance, and if they do, to provide a phone number so that state and local health officials can perform contact tracing in the event of a potential outbreak. In neighboring states, many restaurants have gone to reservation-only.
Patrons are recommended to wait in their car for a table to open up, rather than crowding in the waiting area. The health department also urges establishments to switch to digital-only menus.
The governor’s order and DOH directive encourage local towns and cities to increase shared public spaces for outdoor dining, namely to help restaurants that might not have that capacity.
Towns such as Metuchen, as well as Hoboken and Jersey City, are already closing off certain streets to cars so that restaurants, especially those without the capacity to offer outdoor dining, can use them for shared spaces.
Other options have included closing off specific parking spots to turn them into “parklets,” where a certain number of tables are placed. They might also close off parking lots, or repurpose sidewalks and public parks.
Local governments would have to divvy up the shared space equally among restaurants, under Murphy’s order.
To accommodate the surge in outdoor dining, the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is temporarily loosening rules around just where a restaurant can serve alcohol.
The new rule expands the definition of a “premises” so spaces where they can serve alcohol include adjacent decks, parking lots, patios, sidewalks and other “open outdoor areas.”
A special permit must be obtained, which will be valid between June 15 and Nov. 30. Applications go live on June 5 via the state’s POSSE ABC Online Licensing System, and the fee is $75.