BERKELEY HEIGHTS/NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Nearly three months after New Jersey went into near lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the state has shifted into Stage 2 of Governor Phil Murphy’s multi-phase reopening plan on Monday.
The biggest change in the second phase is the reopening of outdoor dining at restaurants and bars with temporary expansion of outdoor dining onto sidewalks and parking lots, and allowing shoppers inside nonessential retail stores at half capacity.
In Berkeley Heights, diners took full advantage of the first day of outdoor dining. Sidewalks, patios and partitioned parking lots were bustling with folks hungry for a bite of freedom, literally. “Lunch and dinner were great today. We are taking reservations but will accommodate walk-ins too,” said Ralph Acquaviva co-owner of Delicious Heights.
Earlier today, Grain and Cane also reported having 83 dinner reservations. “Customers have been very understanding about the new strange requirements we have,” explained one bartender. The menu is new with some regular favorites.
Restaurants that had enough outdoor space have been able to get creative. Dimaio’s has constructed two giant tents in their front parking lot to accommodate guests for lunch and dinner. While Trap Rock utilized their back patio area.
"We're getting a good number of calls," said Sal Passalacqua, owner of Dimaio's. "I've kept the menu pretty much the same with new specials because I think people want to come back to that. I noticed for the take-out, a lot of people were happy that we were offering a regular menu -- that was a good indication."
Mayor Angie Devanney and her family, as well as Fire Chief and OEM coordinator Tony Padovano along with fellow firefighters were enjoying the outdoor café experience at Dimaio's.
Over in New Providence it was the same story. Harlee’s Tap and Grill expanded into their parking lot. The owner, Don Burkitt posted on the restaurants’ Facebook page, “Fantastically fun night at Harlee’s! Great to see NP with so much 'social-distancing energy' and excitement!” Moe’s Bistro has also announced a new patio area which will be available soon for outdoor dining. New Providence council members were among the many diners enjoying the outside patio at Harlee's Tap and Grill. Locals are also anxiously awaiting a reopening announcement from the owners of Prestige Diner, which also has an outdoor dining area.
Stage 2, however, does not allow for business as usual, there are quite a few restrictions. Restaurants and bars that offer outdoor seating must place tables six feet from each other, limit eight customers to a table, require employees to wear face coverings and gloves, close buffets and salad bars, and post signs that say patrons with a fever or symptoms of the coronavirus shouldn’t enter. The state Department of Health issued about 20 requirements, including limiting access to indoor areas for customers as much as possible with exceptions for restroom use and entry and exit.
Indoor dining remains closed, though Murphy clarified on Sunday that restaurants and catering halls may provide indoor tours to customers seeking to book the venue for future events. Indoor food and drink sampling is not permitted as part of the tours.