HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — COVID restrictions eased Friday as the Tri-State Area gets ready for a major reopening later this month.

It’s the next step as businesses prepare for May 19, when New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will lift most capacity restrictions altogether.

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Bar seating is back in New Jersey and more people can eat indoors at restaurants in New York City, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.

People can belly up to the bar and take a seat at Madison Bar and Grill in Hoboken for the first time in more than a year.

“It’s good camaraderie, seeing what everybody’s been up to, how everybody’s gotten through this, seeing faces that we haven’t seen in awhile,” said general manager Zach Krumpfer. “People feeling a little more comfortable, coming out more and more.”

Effective Friday in New Jersey:

  • Bar seating is allowed (as long as there’s spacing),
  • Buffets are back,
  • Outdoor gatherings can increase to 500 people,
  • Large venues’ outdoor capacity jumps to 50% if there are 1,000 or more seats,
  • You can hit the dancefloor at private, catered events (just in time for prom!), and
  • Indoor, catered events increase to 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people.

But at Baja in Hoboken, they’re not going to add bar seating back just yet.

“It’s a 6-feet restriction. Before, we happened to have 18 people at the bar. Right now, we have to have six people at the bar. So it’s not that great of a help,” said Majur Disla, who plans to keep using extra tables instead.

In New York City, indoor dining capacity jumped to 75%. Personal care services – like barbershops and salons – in the city got a boost to 75% capacity too.

“We just try to go day-by-day,” said Javier Olam, manager at the Times Square Diner.

While that moto got the restaurant through the pandemic, Friday’s changes are meaningful.

“It’s really good, it’s a lot of help,” Olam told CBS2’s John Dias.

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The jump from 50% to 75% capacity means Olam can welcome 15 more paying customers inside at a time.

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Restaurants and bars in New York City were hit hardest during the pandemic. New Yorkers are eager for their recoveries.

“Everyone gets to go out more,” said Jaime Gribbon.

“I know a lot of people are tired of being in this quarantine mode,” said Efe Mesiama from Hell’s Kitchen.

“The pace of vaccinations have been incredible. I think it definitely warrants it and I think we should do everything we can to help these businesses come back,” said Eddie Ward, from Hell’s Kitchen.

The boost puts city bars and restaurants on par with the rest of the state.

Once capacity returns to 100%, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there could be a day when establishments only allow vaccinated people inside or have customers show proof of a negative COVID test.

But that may be challenging.

“We get so many walk-in customers,” said Andrew Rigie from the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Another problem, according to Rigie, is the 6-feet social distancing requirement.

“It still means that most restaurants will not be able to utilize that occupancy unless they put partitions in between all the tables, which can get kind of cumbersome,” Rigie said.

“We’re trying to figure out how many people we can safely fit in the building while keeping 6-feet distancing,” Krumpfer said. “We may not be able to hit 100% capacity.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said reducing the social distancing measure will be a game changer for restaurants.

“They’ve already changed it for schools. They’ve dropped that to three feet,” Murphy said. “As we make more progress as a nation, I’ll bet you that number comes down.”

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CBS2’s John Dias contributed to this report.

Alice Gainer