JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey restaurants are the state’s largest private sector employer, but that changed with the stay home order when 80% of employees were furloughed or terminated.

Soon, though, owners hope to open their doors for more than just take-out and delivery.

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Amy Russo, owner of the brunch spot Toast, describes the restaurant limitations as “putting your business on life support. You’re just kind of keeping some breath going.”

She can’t wait to get word that in-house dining is allowed, even with reduced capacity.

“I would like to see any percent. If they told me that it’s 25%, I would love that,” Russo told CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock.

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She says her dining room will look different when it happens.

“A lot less tables,” she said.

And less on them — no condiment caddies, utensils will be pre-wrapped in plastic, and they’ll possibly have disposable menus or plastic ones that can be cleaned.

All of this and more is part of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association’s “Safe Dining” reopening plan, says association president Marilou Halvorsen.

“Other than the health care industry, nobody is better at sanitation than restaurants,” she said. “This just takes it to the next level.”


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“They will see additional people on the floor cleaning. They will notice that tables will be much more thoroughly totally sanitized,” said Jeanne Cretella, who owns several restaurants and event spaces in Jersey.

In Jersey City, there might be trade-offs to make sure restaurants can reopen and stay open successfully.

“Might lose some parking spaces in order to kind of create the sidewalk and the outdoor seating,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said.

Fulop says Jersey City may also extend hours.

“For licenses, maybe a little bit of a gentle touch on outdoor liquor sales,” he said.

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Across the board, restaurateurs believe more outdoor seating is critical to boosting business.

“This is as much psychological as it is legislative,” Russo said.

If customers feel comfortable, they’ll take seat and order up, which is exactly what the restaurant industry needs — and soon.

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The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association says 8-12% of restaurants won’t reopen. If this goes on until Memorial Day, that number could jump to 15-18%.