NJ restaurants can run maskless and at 100% on Friday — but will they?
Restaurants and bars can start looking like their usual selves just in time for the long holiday weekend — but it may take a bit longer for some eateries to get up and running at true 100% capacity.
During his regular coronavirus briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that come Friday, establishments have the option to do away with maintaining six feet of social distancing. No matter the capacity restriction in place, restaurant tables have been forced to remain at least six feet apart — it's been a major sticking point in an industry attempting to rebound from a turbulent 2020.
"To see this happening before Memorial Day was our goal and our biggest ask," Dana Lancellotti, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, told New Jersey 101.5. "The social distancing was interfering with our businesses being at 100% capacity."
The six-feet rule applies to the distance between the backs of chairs, meaning the tables themselves are actually close to 10 feet apart.
Murphy noted that businesses will still have the option to require social distancing among patrons. Establishments may continue to require that employees and guests wear face coverings as well — along with the social distancing rule, the indoor mask mandate ends on May 28.
According to Lancellotti, many establishments may not be able to operate at full capacity in time for Friday because they don't have staff to manage demand. It's not just a short-notice issue — up against generous unemployment benefits, businesses have been struggling to find workers to fill positions.
"They are hindered tremendously by the hiring crisis," Lancellotti said. "We don't want our businesses to miss the opportunity to maximize all of this demand and the summer season."
Friday also marks the reopening of dance floors at bars and restaurants. And patrons will not be required to be seated while ordering food and drinks.