EDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – It took nearly six months, but New Jersey restaurants can finally let people eat inside again – and it’s a holiday weekend.
Still, with just 25% capacity, indoor dining looks a little different.
For the first time since March 16, food and drinks are being served to customers inside New Jersey restaurant. At the Malibu Diner in Hoboken, plastic barriers separate booths as customers returned inside.
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“We looked forward to it. It’s familiar, and it’s what we’re used to doing,” owner Nick Babalis told CBS2’s Nick Caloway.
Babalis says being limited to just 25% capacity only means about 35 customers inside.
“No, it’s not a good day. Because I don’t think restaurants can operate at 25%. I think at 100% a lot of restaurants sometimes struggle to make it,” he said.
Still, he says 25% is better than zero.
And just because restaurants can resume indoor dining doesn’t mean they all will. Down the street from the diner is Barbès, a French Moroccan bistro that’s sticking with outdoor only for now. The owner says that’s because many customers aren’t ready to eat inside yet, plus the weather is still good for dining al fresco.
Watch: Gov. Phil Murphy Briefing As Indoor Dining Resumes In N.J.
“I believe strongly that the neighbors are not ready yet, they don’t feel comfortable at this moment right now. But also we have enough tables outside to feed the neighborhood,” said Barbès owner Omar Balouma.
At Cuban Pete’s, owner Dominick Restanio feels one week to prepare was not enough time.
“I’m really upset because we’re not fully staffed and we’re not prepared to do it the right way,” he said. “I mean, he should have at least gave us a month prior.”
“I love inside. I do not like outdoors at all. So this is wonderful that it’s opening back up,” said diner Cymone Anthony.
“I thought with only 25% capacity, at this point, is it going to be sort of, you know, sad inside? There’s probably more energy and more life going on outside right now,” said diner Barbara Ingraham.
At River Palm Terrace in Edgewater, some tables are spaced six feet apart, and others are marked out of use.
Watch Nick Caloway’s report —
Lelia Topalanchik went out with her family at Fresco De Franco in Montclair.
“It’s nice after several months of being in the home and cooking,” she told CBS2’s Cory James.
She says picking the perfect spot that was safe for her two little boys required some research.
“I actually saw on their social media that they sprayed for COVID and a lot of other restaurants were not doing that, so I feel they’re really on top of it,” Topalanchik said.
Mohamad Abdeodayem, manager of Fresco De Franco, says in addition to spraying, they also made sure guests sitting down were spaced six feet apart. He says so far, his list for those choosing to dine in is full.
“Everything is booked for the whole weekend, which is definitely a good thing. It’s a positive thing to see,” he said.
As thousands of restaurants begin serving food inside again, Gov. Phil Murphy sent a warning to business owners to take the restrictions seriously.
“Let this be a warning to everybody out there: The limits we have placed on capacities and the public health protocols, we will put in place, are not kind suggestions. They are mandated. They are required. We will not tolerate any violations and we will not be afraid to come down hard and make an example of those who think the rules don’t apply to them,” Murphy said.
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For many business owners, there’s a lingering fear of opening up and having to shut down again. Travis Young, chef and owner of Elysian Café in Hoboken, among them.
“We don’t want that to happen. That’s why, as a community, we have to do the right thing. We have to do what they ask so the numbers can stay down, so that we can eventually get more inside,” Young said.
Caloway spoke with some customers Friday who said they couldn’t wait to get back to indoor dining, and other who say they would prefer to keep eating outside – at least until the cold weather comes.
Movie theaters also received the green light to open their doors Friday. Capacity is limited to 25% and masks are required for everyone, except seated guests who are eating or drinking.
Whether it was eating a meal inside or watching a movie on the big screen, most in the Garden State were happy to be one step closer to life before COVID.
The governor says his office will be keeping an eye out for any business not following the guidelines or violating protocols put in place.
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