Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday gave the green light for gyms to reopen, with limited capacity, starting Sept. 1. He also suggested that indoor dining would not be far behind.

When asked during his briefing about rumors that indoor dining might be allowed by Sept. 14, Murphy said, "I hope it's before then."

"I hope that we've got some indoor dining before then," he said, adding the caveat that "I'm not hanging my hat on that."

It was the second time this week that Murphy has teased indoor dining. On Monday he said that "I’m not going to marry myself to a date yet but the data is unquestionably good of late."

The drumbeat has growing louder in New Jersey to get the state to allow indoor dining.

Restaurants can offer outdoor dining and takeout but Murphy has held off opening indoor dining, citing specific health benchmarks that must be met. He has not shared those benchmarks publicly since changing his mind about allowing indoor dining in early July.

Murphy announced Wednesday morning that gyms would be allowed to open indoors at 25% capacity.

During Tuesday night's Toms River Township Council meeting, Mayor Maurice "Mo" Hill said he has repeatedly asked for indoor dining at restaurants and for gyms and theaters to reopen with 25% capacity during bi-weekly meetings mayors have with Murphy's staff.

"We're one of the only states that don't have indoor dining. Eastern Pennsylvania has 25% occupancy yet right across the river in Trenton or in Lambertville you cannot eat indoors, use a fitness center, go to a movie theater. Yet if you go across the Delaware, you can," Hill said.

Hill said the governor's staff told him "they're thinking about it."

Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone called for Murphy to allow indoor dining and gyms to open or to release dates on when the next phase of openings will begin.

"Our restaurant industry has suffered for nearly fifteen weeks with no solid plan on when they can resume welcoming patrons inside. While outdoor dining has helped, it is does not bring in nearly enough revenue for our restaurants to survive much longer. Not to mention, no one is going to want to dine outdoors come colder weather. This current operation is not self-sustaining," Arnone said in a written statement.

He said county residents have been "making responsible decisions" during the pandemic and following social distance protocols.

#ReopenIndoorDiningNJ button
#ReopenIndoorDiningNJ button (Watermark Restaurant)

Several Jersey Shore restaurateurs — Ashley Coyte, who owns The Grand Tavern in Neptune City, Russell Lewis, owner of Watermark in Asbury Park — as well as the NJ Restaurant & Hospitality Association have started using the hashtag #ReopenIndoorDiningNJ as a social media campaign.

“It’s our position that we must be given the chance to open safely while keeping our customers and staff healthy. It’s possible. Other states have done it with great success. It’s time to reopen indoor dining for N.J,” Coyte wrote online.

Lewis acknowledged that some employees and customers may not be comfortable working indoors and said he would not force anyone to work.

"Watermark will never force or punish any of our staff for choosing not to work indoors - but we don’t have the option to have those internal discussions. That’s what the #ReopenIndoorDiningNJ campaign is about, the option for responsible restaurants to be given the opportunity to create safe places for their customers and staff," Lewis wrote.

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