Outdoor Alcohol Service Extended Through March 2021 For NJ Restaurants & Bars

Restaurateurs to Governor Murphy: 'Thanks, but it's not a game-changer.'

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a slight relaxation of the rules relating to the service of alcoholic beverages outdoors by licensed restaurants. Ordinarily, alcohol service is restricted to what Murphy called “the normal premises” of a licensed eatery—usually meaning the interior and dedicated decks, patios and rooftops.

But this year, owing to the pandemic, hundreds of restaurants in the state were issued permits allowing them to serve alcohol outdoors. The permits were scheduled to expire at the end of November, but Murphy on Monday extended them through the end of next March.

“For many of our restaurants,” Murphy said during his Monday briefing, “having the ability to serve liquor to their customers beyond their normal premises has been meaningful for them and helped them survive during these challenging times.”

Responding to the announcement, Chris Cannon, owner of Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown, said, “It doesn’t affect us. We’ve enclosed our patio with clear plastic sheeting and we’re talking about installing a greenhouse-type tunnel so the servers don’t freeze on their way from the kitchen to the outdoor tables. We’ll just keep adding more outdoor heaters. One good thing about global warming, it’ll probably be a mild winter.

“It’s not Murphy’s fault, ” he added. “It’s a horrible situation. He’s just doing what he thinks is right to keep things open and get through this mess. He’s also trying to keep pressure off himself to increase indoor dining capacity [which is currently limited to 25 percent of normal].”

Jamie Knott, owner of Cellar 335 in Jersey City, responded similarly. “It doesn’t affect us,” he said. “Our last day of outdoor service will be November 1. We could cover the top and fend off the wind for a week or two, but when freezing temperatures hit, nobody’s going to want to eat or drink outside.”

Jeanne Cretella, president of Landmark Hospitality (Liberty House in Jersey City, the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station, among others), serves on the governor’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council, where she represents the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association (NJRHA).

“It’s appreciated,” she said of the rule change, “but I also would have hoped the announcement would have increased [the allowed capacity of] indoor dining. Everything the governor has said, regarding restaurants, that he doesn’t believe any uptick in Covid infections has come from indoor dining. I’m hoping to meet with him in the next week or so, and we hope that as the weather gets colder we’d like to see indoor capacity be allowed to rise from 25 percent to at least 50 percent, if not 60 percent.”

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the NJRHA, took a similar position. “It’s certainly helpful,” she said, “but I would have liked it to have been made permanent. [In comfortable weather] you will see outdoor dining remain popular, and it’s also helpful to the towns. But people are not going to want to sit with blankets around them when they eat.”

On the subject of increasing the allowed indoor capacity above the present 25 percent, she said, “If we can put plexiglass or other panels between tables, we could safely increase capacity above 25 percent. If you have to leave six feet of space between tables, a small restaurant is not going to be able to get beyond 25 percent. The casinos have plexiglass panels between tables, and that would be helpful for restaurants.”

The expansion of liquor service beyond the traditional understanding of premises, she added, should be made permanent.

“Your liquor license allows you to serve in a specific area. This expansion allows you to take your license and go to an adjacent area, whether a parking lot or sidewalk, and use your license outside the traditional licensed premises. I don’t know why there would be any pushback.

“Towns can still say no, but from what I’ve seen they’re excited. Like in Red Bank where they’ve created outdoor dining spaces that have increased traffic for other businesses. Restaurants are the draw that bring people to any downtown area, and retail and other businesses benefit from that.”

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