TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) —New Jersey restaurants will be able to welcome back customers for indoor dining Friday, and movie theaters will be allowed to reopen, too.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced the indoor dining news Monday.
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NEW: Restaurants statewide will be able to open for indoor dining beginning this FRIDAY at 25% capacity and with social distancing between tables.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) August 31, 2020
“Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19,” he tweeted.
Restaurants must operate at 25% capacity with social distancing between tables. Staff and diners must wear masks indoors.
“Any customer who either does not wear or refuses to wear face masks, absent a legitimate medical reason, cannot be seated indoors,” said Murphy. “Additionally, we are asking that diners keep their masks on while waiting for their food and once they’re finished eating or drinking.”
Restaurants that provide food service can allow people to sit at the bar, if they are socially distanced.
“I’m proud that our restaurants will be able to return to some level of indoor service for the Labor Day weekend,” Murphy said.
Movie theaters and other indoor performance venues will be limited to the lesser of 25% capacity or 150 people. Social distancing and masks will be required.
“In theaters, groups that purchase tickets together may sit together, but all other movie goers must remain at least six feet apart,” said Murphy.
Murphy said the same capacity guidelines will be applied to indoor religious services, weddings, funerals and memorial services; and political activities.
Watch Gov. Murphy’s Announcement:
In the warm summer months, outdoor dining has been a savior for many restaurants.
At the River Plam Terrace in Edgewater, the tent out in the parking lot has been a hit.
“It’s been incredible. The reaction has been real positive from the regular customers,” said co-owner John Campbell.
Still, fall is approaching, a reality he can’t ignore.
“This was helpful to keep us all going. But summer is short. And we need to get back indoors,” he said.READ MORE: Hit-And-Run Driver Slams Into Married Couple Leaving Suffern Christmas Parade
So it was welcome news to hear all New Jersey restaurants can finally resume indoor dining Friday.
“Better than nothing, I would say. Baby steps,” said Elez Topuzovic of Giovanni’s Bicycle Club in Englewood Cliffs.
Those baby steps mean Giovanni’s Bicycle Club can seat dozens more customers inside.
“We’re really looking forward to it, especially since the winter is coming now. And you don’t really know how it is going to be outside,” Tupozovic said.
New Jersey restaurants were originally slated to resume indoor dining on July 2, before the plug was pulled a few days out as COVID-19 cases surged in other states.
For restaurant owners and managers, being one of the slowest states in the country to reopen has been frustrating.
“I mean, it’s not enough to really sustain the business fully like we normally do because we rely on volume. So, we’re barely getting by, honestly,” said John Gergeos, the director of operations at Raymond’s Diner. “I definitely think it’s taking too long. A lot of other states have done it already, I think we’re the last ones and New York City are probably the last ones. Because people were able to go to New York State, which is a 20 minute drive, and were able to eat indoors.”
The industry has been ravaged by the pandemic. Some estimate more than 30% of New Jersey restaurants have closed permanently since March.
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The announcement comes ahead of Labor Day weekend and as cooler temperatures are sure to make outdoor dining less appealing.
“That’s what we were looking at and kind of scared about because it’s gonna get cold fast,” said Gergeos. “Usually, we were able to do outside through September, but then, once October hits, it starts to get a lot colder, quickly too.”
Still, in the middle of a pandemic, some customers told CBS2 they’re not ready to eat inside.
“I like being outdoors. I like the fresh air. I don’t know that I would sit in a restaurant and eat… I would feel too claustrophobic at this point,” said Tracey Doyle, a Ridgewood resident.
Others said the’re OK dining indoors, as long as it’s safe.
“I think we need to continue moving forward with life, and just let things happen, and take as many precautions as we can, but not hold ourselves back,” said Melanie Lota, a Glen Rock resident.
Twenty-five percent capacity at Raymond’s Diner is about 30 customers.MORE NEWS: 'Trees For Troops' Spreads Holiday Cheer To Brave Americans Stationed Overseas
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