Restaurant owners want New Jersey’s restaurants to open for outdoor dining, and they don’t want to wait much longer.
Dozens of owners, along with local dignitaries, joined together Friday for what organizer Chris Wood called a “respectful request for the governor to open up sooner rather later.” Wood, who owns Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright and Tinton Falls, said that they want restaurants to open up for outdoor dining on June 5, ahead of a rumored June 15 opening date by the governor.
“The governor has talked about the original regional cooperation plan among the neighboring states for uniformly reopening restaurants. But as of right now, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and even parts of New York are allowing outdoor dining,” said Wood. “We as restaurant owners are well prepared to go above and beyond normal cleaning protocols to protect our patrons. We’re not here to put anyone at risk. We want everyone to be safe, but we also want to generate revenue for our restaurants, our vendors, for our employees, and tax revenue for the state. We need people back on the payroll.”
Ten days can make a big difference to restaurants, especially by the shore, Wood explained. And what if the weather around June 5 is perfect, and the weather around June 15 is rainy?
“Restaurants can miss a weekend and it’s catastrophic. I don’t have a crystal ball about the weather, but we can apply it to restaurants on the Jersey Shore, we make hay while the sun is shining. We need to make money when we can. The quicker we open, the quicker we can recover,” Wood said.
Eighty-five percent of New Jersey’s 350,000-strong restaurant workforce is on unemployment right now.
The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-13th District, joined restaurant owners at Friday’s event.
“[We] need 50 percent occupancy dining by the middle of June. Give restaurants something to work off of,” O’Scanlon and DiMaso said in a joint statement. “It’s been weeks of waiting and hoping for guidance with no end in sight. They cannot sit tight for a potential date weeks away while our neighboring states reopen safely.”
June is the second largest month for gross tax receipt revenue, only behind the month before Christmas, according to their statement.
Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal, D-11th District, did not attend the presser but issued a statement to express his strong support.
“New Jersey’s restaurant industry has worked hard to promote social distancing in their kitchens, design plans for reopening, and find new ways to keep staff and customers safe from COVID-19. As the governor’s recent executive order expanding outdoor gatherings shows, and as broad amounts of medical data have indicated, this virus is far less dangerous when it’s not confined by four walls and a ceiling,” Gopal said in his statement. “New Jersey is making real, measurable progress on expanding testing and implementing contact tracing, and once we lift the ban on outdoor dining, I strongly believe that we can keep our infection curve flattened by keeping clear social distancing safeguards in place.”
Gopal noted that hundreds of restaurants have gone out of business since the state of COVID-19. Gopal previously called for municipalities to provide additional room for customers by allowing restaurants to use public spaces for outdoor dining.
“These small businesses deserve our support and guidance, and we cannot afford to let them wait any longer,” he said.