Expanded outdoor dining across NJ ‘fizzling’ out, say some mayors
As the number of COVID-19 vaccinations across New Jersey inch toward the six million mark and transmission levels continue to dip, expanded outdoor dining areas are slowly running their course.
In Metuchen, dining tents in the borough’s downtown area along New Street will come down on or around Nov. 1 due to long-delayed gas company work and won’t be put back, the borough mayor announced on his Facebook page on Wednesday.
By December 1, all other restaurant tents in the borough will also be required to be removed.
The gas company’s considerable delay combined with the overall local decrease in COVID cases prompted the decision, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch said.
For the first two weeks of October, Middlesex County was among four counties within the Central East region of the state that remained at high COVID transmission activity level, while the rest of the state was at moderate level.
Other counties that remained at high transmission activity level for the first half of the month were Monmouth, Ocean and Union.
In Ocean County, outdoor dining also has “fizzled out” around town, according to Brick Mayor John Ducey.
There was only one inquiry going into the fall and that was actually from a new business that is opening this week, Ducey said to New Jersey 101.5.
After speaking with the township’s zoning officer, they decided to not go forward due to the impending cold weather, he added.
It’s more of a mixed bag in Freehold Township, according to Freehold Mayor Thomas Cook, as several businesses had ended such expansions, while some still remain.
“As far as zoning is concerned, the Township Committee remains lenient with regard to outdoor operations and supports business owners who have adopted this model,” Cook said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.
Amid the recent mild weather, patrons still have been opting for outdoor dining at restaurants owned and operated by the Triple T hospitality group, which include all Tommy's Tap + Tavern locations and Tio Taco + Tequila Bar.
"We are just going with normal operations at the moment, slowly shutting down our patios and backyard areas and preparing for winter," a Triple T Hospitality spokesperson said, continuing "Our Freehold location has a permanent tent which is considered 'outdoor' and that is offered year-round."
Triple T Hospitality also owns restaurants in Edison, Princeton, Sea Bright, Clifton and Staten Island.
In Long Branch, some businesses were still using outdoor dining, under state guidelines that allow for expanded use through November 2022, according to Long Branch Assistant Business Administrator Lindsay DeAngelis.
Cranford downtown restaurants still have been using their outdoor dining spaces on sidewalks and in parklets, Cranford Mayor Kathleen Prunty said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.
"Several restaurants have added outdoor heating and if last year was any indication, I expect folks to be outside for a while," Prunty also said.
Parklets installed by the township in parking spaces would remain in place until Oct. 31, while sidewalk dining still would be permitted in Cranford into November.
Restaurants — along with gyms and casinos — first returned to 50% capacity back in March, a full year after the pandemic first halted indoor dining in the state.
Indoor dining was permitted to return to full capacity by Memorial Day weekend in May.
As of Monday, 5.97 million people who live, work or study in the state were fully vaccinated, while more than 12 million doses of COVID vaccine had been administered across the state.
The rate of transmission was at .92 and the positivity rate was 3.96%, while there were 903 new confirmed cases and 208 likely cases, based on test results.
Also Monday, 890 COVID patients were hospitalized around the state, including 202 in intensive care units. There were 111 ventilators in use among COVID patients, the state's hospitals reported.