Indoor Dining Resumes in New Jersey: What Restaurant Owners Need to Know

Last updated September 4, 2020

As Labor Day weekend approaches and summer winds down, Governor Murphy has announced that patrons are permitted to dine indoors in New Jersey beginning Friday, September 4, 2020. After over five months of mandated closure, this will mark the first time that patrons are permitted to eat indoors since March, when Governor Murphy closed restaurants by Executive Order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Movie theaters, music venues and gyms are also permitted to open with strict occupancy and social distancing guidelines.

Indoor dining will be a welcome change for New Jersey restaurants, bars, cafeterias, dining establishments, and food courts; with or without a liquor license, who have sustained a crushing financial blow as a result of COVID-19. Restaurant owners hope that this will be the first step towards full operations with no restrictions, and remain hopeful that New Jersey businesses will soon be able to serve more patrons while still following social distancing rules.

Patrons at New Jersey restaurants have been enjoying outdoor dining since early summer, mostly under tents, on streets, sidewalks and patios, and in parking lots and in covered areas with at least 50 percent open wall space.

Governor Murphy has detailed restrictions on indoor dining, which include but are not limited to:

  • Restaurant occupancy is limited to 25 percent of normal capacity.
  • Patrons are required to wear masks at all times when they are not in their seats; any customer who does not wear or refuses to wear a face mask without a legitimate medical reason cannot be seated indoors;
  • A table is permitted to have a maximum of eight people, exception for immediately family members;
  • A distance of six feet of will be required between tables;
  • Restaurant employees are required to wear masks at all times;
  • Any indoor or outdoor dance floors must be cordoned off to the public;
  • If a restaurant offers table service, patrons must order food while seated, no patrons are able to go to the bar to order food or drinks;
  • Restaurants that provide food service at a bar are permitted to operate, but patrons must remain six feet apart. The maximum number of patrons for a single group at the bar is four;
  • Restaurant and bar windows must be open to allow for fresh air, air conditioning/ventilation must be operational to allow the maximum amount of fresh air into the building, and the amount of air being recirculated must be at its lowest possible setting;
  • Ventilation systems must be inspected regularly and run for two hours both before and after patrons are present on the premises; restaurants should consider installing portable air cleaners equipped with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to increase the amount of clean air within the facility;
  • Signage at restaurants must warn patrons not to enter if they have a fever or other symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Restaurants are required to install signage and physical guides to encourage people to socially distance and space apart while in line for seating or restrooms;
  • Reservations by patrons are encouraged to allow for contact tracing;
  • Patrons are required to wait in their cars or outside the restaurant to be seated if a restaurant can’t provide enough space for social distancing in a waiting area;
  • Buffets, salad bars and self-service of food or beverages are prohibited;
  • Physical barriers must be installed at host areas and cash registers or other places where close face to face contact is hard to avoid;
  • Employees of the restaurant must be screened for fever and other symptoms daily, and must be trained on appropriate health safety practices;
  • Restaurants must regularly disinfect high-touch areas like tables, chairs, menus, credit card machines, keypads and counters;
  • Food and drink can only be consumed by people who are seated.

The Governor stated that operational guidelines could change if not followed by owners and patrons. Governor Murphy has also asserted that should benchmark statistics that track the spread of COVID-19 go up, indoor dining could be pulled entirely.

These new policies and guidelines are New Jersey’s second attempt at indoor dining. The Governor had proposed indoor dining earlier in the summer, but abruptly changed course on June 29, three days before indoor dining was originally set to begin. On that day, Murphy announced that indoor dining would be postponed indefinitely, due to concerns about overcrowding at outdoor dining areas and patrons not wearing masks. The sudden change hurt many restaurants that had already hired back employees and spent money on food, alcohol, new signage, and safety and cleaning supplies in preparation for reopening.

The full text of Executive Order 183 can be found here.

Guidance from the Department of Health can be found here:

What are the reopening rules for bars and restaurants? What precautions or policies must they take?

Health and Safety Standards for Indoor Dining Pursuant to Executive Order No. 183

Executive Directive No. 20-019 (revised) Covid-19 Protocols for Food or Beverage Establishments; Offering service in outdoor areas pursuant to Executive Orders Nos. 150, 157, and 158

For additional information pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak, please visit CSG’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

This publication contains general information on recent legal developments and is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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