CARLE PLACE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — As of Friday, restaurants in the Tri-State Area are expanding operations, allowing more diners indoors.

Restaurants can now have 50% capacity in some locales, and 100% in others.

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As indoor dining pandemic restrictions are loosened, it’s an important benchmark that is creating buzz.

As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, Friday was the first time one group of friends had ventured out to eat in a year, meeting for their traditional dim sum at their favorite Queens restaurant. New Northern Manor is getting a mild boost with New York City’s 50% indoor expansion rules now in effect.

Owner Kai Yeung says he can admit 100 patrons, up from 75.

“Usually, we have 300 people in the dining room. Now 100 people, you see, not help,” Yeung said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Fifty percent won’t help enough, says Yeung, especially because his Little Neck, Queens restaurant – and many others along Northern Boulevard – are mere blocks from the Nassau County border, where capacity on Long Island and the rest of the state jumps to 75%.

“It’s going to help a lot. The extra 30 seats, as you turn them in the course of the evening, create a lot more revenue,” said Vincent’s Clam Bar owner Bobby Marisi.

At the Carle Place establishment, they are spaced and divided and ready to go. The Tri-State Area is under competing umbrellas:

  • 100% capacity for indoor dining in Connecticut
  • 75% for New York state, with the exception of New York City, which is at 50%
  • New Jersey is also topped at 50%

Lawmakers and emotional owners in New Jersey say they’re happy to be back indoors in any form.

“We cried with our customers when they came in to pick up food and they said they missed us,” said Grace Sciancalepore of Leo’s Grandevous in Hoboken.

Owners say boosting capacity of restaurants and catering halls, coupled with ramped up vaccination sites and falling COVID cases, is bringing optimism for the spring.

“As people get vaccinated, they are getting more confident and more secure, and they are a little more open to dining out,” said Marisi.

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Clams, broccoli, salads and pasta await hungry palates for indoor dining.

Saad Fatih, general manager of Pause Cafe, said the East Village eatery was on the brink of closing — at most, it had two months — since previous restrictions only allowed for take-out and eight people inside.

“It was tough, really tough,” he told CBS2’s John Dias. “This is a New York space, it’s a tiny space, so we tried to do the best with what we have.”

Customers have to call ahead to reserve spots, but the new capacity rules bring needed relief.

“It’s just like a dream come true again,” Fatih said.

“These businesses have struggled. Amazing people with great hearts,” said Brian Martin, of Basking Ridge. “New York is going to come back stronger than ever.”

COVID VACCINE

General gatherings there are also getting a boost. Indoor get-togethers can increase from 10 to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings can go from 25 to 50.

Also in the Garden State, outdoor interstate youth sports can come back Friday with certain limits, including just two parents or guardians per athlete are allowed to watch in person.

In Connecticut, business owners are elated as the state makes the most prominent rollbacks of restrictions in the Tri-State Area. All capacity limits are eliminated for most businesses, including restaurants, retail and gyms, as well as houses of worship and museums.

“We’re just looking forward to everything getting better from here,” Dennis Cloke, general manager of Fish Restaurant + Bar, said. “It’s amazing, it’s a great step forward. We still have to follow the six-feet rule, but this is a big step forward. So we’re happy that it looks like things are going positively.”

Even with the new rules, health officials say people cannot let their guards down. Still practice social distancing and wear face masks.

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John Dias contributed to this report. 

Jennifer McLogan