Murphy signs bill allowing for expansion of outdoor dining in New Jersey

A view of the sign for The Metuchen Inn, a popular eatery in Metuchen, N.J., in October 2017.
A view of the sign for The Metuchen Inn, a popular eatery in Metuchen, N.J., in October 2017. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation that allows New Jersey’s restaurants and bars to expand their outdoor dining offerings for customers.

S-3340/A-5246 establishes a framework for municipalities across the Garden State to allow the expansion of outdoor dining. It also extends the expiration date to Nov. 30, 2022, of expansion permits issued under a ruling by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to expand where establishments can serve alcohol.

“As we weather the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continually trying to find new and innovative ways to aid our state’s business community while not sacrificing our public health,” Murphy said in a news release. “This bill will give our restaurants more certainty for the future so they can once again lean into the outdoor expansions we allowed this past summer to help recoup losses and strengthen their businesses and the jobs they support.”

The measure also applies to distilleries and breweries.

“This is finally a little bit of good news for businesses that have endured almost a full year of misery from the threat of the coronavirus and the oppressive lockdowns and restrictions intended to prevent its spread,” state Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Franklin, said in a statement.

“In their struggle to survive, many of these small employers made significant investments to serve customers outdoors, and this new law will allow them to recover the money they spent and generate additional revenue,” Oroho added. “Once again, they will be able to use the outdoor heaters, tents, lights and other equipment they had to remove months ago. It is a step in the right direction.”

In October, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority set aside $35 million from its Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program for food service businesses.

Last week, Murphy increased indoor capacity limits at restaurants from 25% to 35%. The governor also lifted the statewide 10 p.m. curfew on indoor restaurant service, but some local restrictions may remain in place.

The change applies to indoor performance venues, weddings, funerals and political gatherings in addition to restaurants. While many lauded the action, some said the increase doesn’t go far enough.

“Aggressive restrictions have been devastating to restaurants and taverns,” Assemblyman Parker Space, R-Sussex/Warren/Morris, said in a news release.

“Many have closed their doors forever, and many more are doing everything in their power to hold on,” Space added. “By allowing food and drink establishments to utilize outdoor spaces, including patios and decks, walkways and parking lots, they will be able to serve more customers, pay more employees, and keep their lights on.”

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The Center Square was launched in May 2019 to fulfill the need for high-quality statehouse and statewide news across the United States. The focus of our work is state- and local-level government and economic reporting. A taxpayer sensibility distinguishes our work from other coverage of state and local issues.

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