MADISON, NJ - As restaurants move from take out service to table service, The Borough of Madison is suggesting the use of creative outdoor dining options to boost the restaurant experience and help local restaurants continue to thrive. Some ideas were outlined during the Council Meeting on Monday, June 8.

Governor Murphy announced that the State of New Jersey is moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2. The change includes how restaurants operate and Borough Officials have asked how they can help restaurants navigate the newest changes.

Before the ideas were presented, Mayor Bob Conley said, "this may not be perfect, but let's work to improve it and not fight to kill it."

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Lisa Ellis, Director of Business Development for the Downtown Development Commission began the presentation by stating that "this has been a difficult experience for our business owners and restaurant owners".

"We all talked about how we can help them recover", said Ellis.

Beginning Monday, June 15, Governor Murphy has stated that outdoor dining will begin. To help make the transition, Madison officials are thinking outside the box. During a prior meeting, The Borough of Madison passed a resolution to temporarily amend sidewalk dining licenses. Restaurants will be able to expand outdoor dining on "private property, parking lots, sidewalks surrounding their businesses".

To do this, there is a simple application for restaurant owners fill out the forms, said Ellis.

"But we felt like this wasn't enough in that a lot of them don't necessarily have a lot of sidewalk space, especially in the historic downtown", said Ellis. "It's very uneven. Some of them have very wide sidewalks and some are very narrow."

The concept they developed is called "dining pods".

The dining pods would take place in three areas; the West side of Waverly Place, Cook Avenue Plaza Parking Lot and the Waverly Green Parking Lot. 

"We are trying to find creative ways to bring new life to downtown", said Ellis.

Ellis stated that these locations were chosen because "they are accessible to multiple establishments and are large enough areas for more than one establishment to create a pod as well as easy to close off and secure".

"The idea will test the concept of a pedestrian plaza", she said.

The pods will be open Thursday through Sunday from 5pm - 10pm for the parking lots and 6pm - 10pm on Waverly Place on Thursday through Saturday and 11am - 9pm. 

"The goal will be to work with each owner and find a plan that works best for them", continued Ellis. "All New Jersey Department of Health and our local health department protocols will have to be adhered to and enforced".

The restaurants will have to provide their own tables and chairs and will need to set up and break down the setup.

"I think it's an opportunity", said Ellis. "We can offer it and we will see how it goes. Maybe they will jump on it, maybe they won't but the key is working with them individually and helping them through this process and hopefully getting them back on the road to individual recovery".

"These dining pods are just another layer, another opportunity", she said.

Mayor Conley also stated that this concent will continue to evolve.

"What we roll out next week may be a whole lot different than what we see", said Conley. 

He asked restaurants to continue to follow the guidelines with regard to reopening. To those who have jumped the gun, and put out sidewalk tables and allowed customers to eat on site, Mayor Conley said "we are not going to go hard against them and levy a fine because that would be counter-productive during this very difficult time".

"But for those who have done this, I have taken it as a slap in the face but as we move forward, we will do this together", he said.


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