CRANFORD - After an announcement from Governor Phil Murphy that restaurants in New Jersey would be allowed to partially reopen indoor dining, restaurants throughout Cranford are preparing for the change to take effect.
The new rules, which will go into effect Friday mandate among other things, a 25% capacity cap on indoor dining. The state of New Jersey had initially rolled out a timetable for indoor dining that would have started on July 2, but rescinded the order earlier in the summer before it went into effect, blindsiding many businesses.
But as the executive order to reopen dining moves forward, restaurateurs throughout Cranford are preparing to serve customers indoors again, continue to serve outdoors only, or completely revamp their business plan.
For Barry O'Donovan, owner of Kilkenny House, indoor dining at his establishment likely won't return until next week. O'Donovan says his decision to not reopen indoors doesn't have to do with safety precautions, but because he doesn't have enough staff.
"Everybody that we had for the summer just left this week," said O'Donovan. "We just started training our new staff. We didn't expect indoors until next week. One of our guys in the kitchen is on vacation this week. It is what it is. But we want to make sure we're going to do it right."
O'Donovan was able to build a temporary outdoor patio behind his restaurant with 18 tables, but knows the colder weather is coming and hopes the 25% cap will rise to 75% by the end of October at the latest. When he opens indoors next week, tables will be safely distanced with dividers in between.
When indoor dining was shutdown in March, Franco Vitella, owner of Venue 104, had to completely revamp his business. Venue 104 went from a private catering event space to a takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining restaurant. With the return of indoor dining, Venue 104 will begin to phase away from its traditional restaurant setting and go back to hosting private events.
"Unfortunately, my industry, the venue and private parties, we're one of the lasts to open up," said Vitella. "Restaurants have been allowed to open outside and thank god I was able to modify myself to be an outside restaurant. But again, we are built for catering and that's what we'll get back to."
Other restaurants around town such as River and Rail Cantina, Riverside Inn, Thirsty Turtle, and others will be open for indoor dining. After witnessing Cranford restaurants such as Pairings Palate + Plate, A Toute Heure, and Fromage Grillé close due to hardships, the Cranford DMC is encouraging residents to continue to support the restaurants.
"We were happy to hear the announcement from the Governor permitting indoor dining," said Cranford DMC Director Gabe Bailer. "The 25% capacity is a start, and we hope that this will be increased with the upcoming colder weather. With the combination of indoor and outdoor dining, this will help our food establishments. Downtown Cranford will work with all our restaurants to prepare them Friday’s opening. Now more than ever our restaurants and all our businesses need our support. Come to Downtown Cranford to dine, shop and enjoy our great downtown."