On the day that an expansion of indoor dining and curfew-relaxation went into effect, Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb. 5 signed a similar bill into law allowing restaurants to widen their outdoor dining footprint come the warmer months.
Senate Bill 3340 will allow restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and other food and alcohol establishments that have taken a hit during the pandemic to extend their footprint outdoors, and sell food and alcohol out of spaces such as patios, sidewalks, decks, yards and parking lots.
“We must give our restaurants more certain for the future that will allow those that make it through this winter, that they can again lean on the outdoor expansions we allowed last summer,” Murphy said during a virtually-held Friday morning bill-signing. “This new law will help strengthen our restaurants as they recover from the pandemic.”
The version Murphy signed into law extends the outdoor dining permit to Nov. 30, 2022, rather than the version which Murphy vetoed, which grants the ability to restaurants indefinitely.
“This allows them to recoup some of the losses” from the COVID-19 closures, and “capitalize on the investments that they made last summer,” Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, said on Friday.
“But it also gives them a chance to capitalize on their investments that they have made this past summer: tents, heating equipment, landscaping, site improvement, outdoor electrical lighting, all of those amenities they invested in,” he told NJBIZ in January.
Many restaurants have operated at limited capacity for nearly a year, ever since sweeping restrictions were put in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state last March and were prohibited from offering sit-down dining of any kind between then and June 15.
Restaurants and bars were able to provide outdoor dining over the summer. But with the cold weather rendering most of those options useless, Murphy signed an order permitting indoor dining at a reduced capacity beginning Labor Day weekend. Restaurant owners say the restrictions have been devastating to their businesses.
“What this bill will do will give some predictability, it will give the businesses the opportunity to plan forward,” Marilou Halvorsen, outgoing president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said on Friday. “Our restaurants have been extremely creative in what they’ve been doing and customers really enjoy it.”
“It may take some time before people are comfortable going back inside… this allows our guests to have the choice [of] being able to dine inside and outside.”
As of 6 a.m. Friday morning, bars and restaurants can now increase their indoor capacity from 25% to 35% and can offer indoor dining past 10 p.m.
“I feel confident in signing this order because of the recent trends in our hospitals and our rate of transmission,” Murphy said on Feb. 3. “We believe that we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system.”
Bar and restaurant owners, as well as Republican lawmakers, have argued that was vital for the upcoming Super Bowl, which can often drag past that time. The order grants local towns the authority to restrict indoor dining hours after 8 p.m. So far Newark and Paterson are enacting late-night curfews for restaurants.
Under the bill Murphy signed, businesses would need to apply with their local zoning office for a permit to expand their outdoor footprint. Municipal officials would have more leeway to reject applications than in the version of the bill which Murphy rejected.
The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, under the new version, would have broader authority over the approval process for outdoor liquor sales, rather than local officials, as was outlined in the initial legislation.