As New Jersey progresses through the phases of reopening, this week gave us the opportunity to dine outdoors at our favorite restaurants. Before you know it, we’ll be able to take our dining experience inside, but what exactly will that look like?

Nostradamus can take the day off with predictions thanks to this Jersey Boy visiting the Tar Heel State.  Indoor dining has been permitted in North Carolina for several weeks with restaurants strictly adhering to CDC guidelines. Standard operating procedures have been augmented to foster social distancing as well as address overall safety concerns in a post-shutdown world. 

What’s happening in North Carolina restaurants is a good preview of what to expect when dining indoors in the Garden State.

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MORE: Visiting a Re-Opened Mall in Georgia Gave me a Glimpse of NJ’s Future

Some Restaurants May Opt Out of Opening

Smaller restaurants with intimate and limited seating here have opted not to open when permitted to do so.  It’s not that they object to the CDC guidelines, specifically reconfiguring seating to allow a six-foot distance.  It’s because in compliance, the profit generated from the diminished seating doesn’t justify the operational cost. In worst-case scenarios, some restaurants won’t re-open because, sadly, they are additional victims of the shutdown.

Reality: If your favorite restaurant is small and offers a quaint dining experience, you might have to wait a few weeks longer before they open. The wait will be worth it because your favorite restaurant’s fate could be worse. When restaurants you love reopen, be sure to thank yourself for supporting them during the shutdown via curbside pickup. 

No Reservations about Reservations

One of the restaurants I visited was a Texas Roadhouse, part of a chain of casual dining steakhouses.

The systems created and used by Texas Roadhouse to facilitate inside dining were nothing less than seamless. Upon arrival in their parking lot, we were greeted by staff asking for our cell number. We were told told to park and wait in our car until we received a text stating that our table was ready. Within minutes, we received a text, went inside and were taken directly to our waiting table. I never found myself less than six feet away from a stranger at any time.

Reality: A great thing about national chain restaurants and the re-opening of our economy is that the standard operating procedures are started in states that opened before New Jersey. All the glitches, if any, are being ironed out and addressed, making it perfect for a Garden State roll-out.

Something is Missing from the Table

When I got to my first table, I noticed immediately that there was something missing. It was empty. No napkins or silverware, no salt and pepper and absolutely no condiments. 

At a Cracker Barrel we visited, I missed the triangle and golf tee game. Fortunately, we were able to download the Cracker Barrel App to play that game and more. 

When masked servers arrive to greet us and take our drink order, we’re given either disposable or cleanable menus and wrapped silverware. When it comes to condiments, we need to ask for them. Salt and pepper arrive in individual packets and servings of ketchup and other sauces are in small covered disposable bowls.

Reality: If you’re a fan of extra pepper, be sure to tell your server right out of the gate. Your server may have a few less tables in their station, but they’re definitely doing a little more running for you. Getting the request out of the way at the beginning makes everyone happy.

What About Buffets?

Everyone loves a good buffet, but will they survive in a post-COVID-19 world? One buffet known by foodies worldwide is the breakfast buffet at the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst. Known for an amazing assortment of goodies that take breakfast to next-level greatness, I wondered if CDC guidelines could be applied to this buffet without destroying the experience.

It actually can.

Executive Chef Thierry DeBailleul was very smart when reconfiguring the breakfast buffet for re-opening.  Some hard choices had to be made regarding downsizing the options, including the elimination of custom-made waffles and omelets and the best sliced peaches in the world, but what remained were classics guaranteed to make breakfast the best meal of the day. 

The silver serving trays from the old days are simply facing the server, both of which are on the other side of a plexiglass shield. We walked down the line and chose your options, and the plating was done by staff.  When we returned to our table, we were greeted by our own coffee pot, on the ready for self-pouring.

Reality: Buffet, 2.0 is not the same, but it’s close enough. A major plus is that one often overindulges when hitting the buffet and having a server does wonders for portion control, even though they’re more than happy to pile on the bacon. And you can still go back for seconds. And thirds.

Adventures in the Great Indoors

Taking baby steps in dining is a great way to segue back into normal living.  We started with curbside pickup, followed by outdoor seating. The leap to the Great Indoors may seem daunting but I did so knowing that everything was being done to give us both a pleasurable and safe experience. 

Once indoor seating is available to New Jerseyans, some will be ready to jump in with both feet and fork and others with trepidation can still partake in curbside pickup. Regardless of where you are on the dining spectrum, one thing is certain — the staff will give you a hearty thank you for coming, 

And you’ll be glad you did!

Craig Rogers is the guy who gets relationships write. Author of The 49th Challenge and writer of NJ Flavor's New Jersey Date Night series, Craig has written countless articles on dating, relationships and breakup recovery. To learn more about Craig, visit

What’s your idea for a great New Jersey Date? Tell Craig all about it at


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