A group of restaurant owners gathered outside Woody's Ocean Grille on Friday to push for a June 5 reopening date for outdoor dining.

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, restaurants have been allowed to offer takeout and curbside pickup. Chris Wood, the owner of the restaurant in Sea Bright, said eateries are ready to take the next step.

"We've had 10 weeks to digest all the information available regarding this horrible pandemic. It's time to let the people of New Jersey make their own educated decisions as to whether they choose to go out or stay home. Freedom of choice is what this country was built on and it's time to allow this to happen," Wood told New Jersey 101.5 on Friday.

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, which also represents hotels and banquet facilities, said protocols called Safe Dining for both indoor and outdoor settings have been submitted to the governor's office, which she said was well received.

"They entail things like proper social distancing, disposable menus, personal condiments, enhanced sanitation practices,servers wearing masks, distancing of tables, no contact check-in," Halvorsen said.

Restaurant owners hold signs at outdoor dining press briefing (NJ Restaurant & Hospitaity Assoc)

Wood said every week that restaurants can't make outdoor dining available is a missed opportunity.

"We do need customers, and we do need to put people back to work and we do need to create revenue. It's good for us, it's good for the state, it's good for vendors, it's good for everybody," Wood said.

Halvorsen said that 15-18% of the restaurants in New Jersey will never reopen.

"The longer they stay shuttered, that percentage will go up," she said.

Wood asked Gov. Phil Murphy to "stick with the script" of the regional cooperation with neighboring states, which are starting to allow outdoor dining.

"Keep the jobs here. Keep the tax dollars here and, most importantly, keep our businesses here," Wood said.

Once outdoor dining is allowed, Wood said a plan needs to be developed to allow the gradual return of indoor dining.

Wood and Marylou said that the restaurants are not interested in defying the executive order by offering outdoor dining before it's allowed.

"This is not a rebellion. It's an ask. We are looking to get open as soon as possible," Wood said.

 

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