Local restaurants make safety a priority for outdoor diners

New measures include hand sanitizers and table distancing.

When COVID-19 caused restaurants across the state to close their doors in March, most of them resorted to delivery and takeout  orders to keep running.  

Once Gov. Phil Murphy started phase 2 of reopening the state on June 15, restaurant patrons were able to return to their favorite eateries for outdoor dining only. Each restaurant developed its own guidelines for keeping staff and customers safe.

Procedures include hand sanitizing stations, tables placed 6 feet apart,   mask guidelines and temperature checks for staff. Restaurants such as Nifty Fifty’s in Turnersville, The Village Pub in Sewell, P.J. Whelihan’s in Washington Township and Cinder Bar in Williamstown have also added new spaces to seat customers outdoors, while giving diners options for single-use plastic ware and condiments.   

“We are doing our best to try and accommodate our guests with all the craziness going on,” said Ryan Lynch, bar manager at Whelihans in Washington Township.

“We have single-use flatware and single-use salt and pepper.  Anything that would be a high contact point are not on the tables to avoid exposure as much as possible.” 

Along with the procedures, restaurants are finding other new ways to keep customers safe while dining. Cinder Bar has brought in a remediation company that fogs the restaurant to create a deep clean for the tables and dining area, and it came up with a plan for staff to keep cross-contamination at a minimum.  

“Bartenders will not touch dirty glasses,” said Scott Kronberger, operations director for Cinder Bar. “The glasses will come back from a busboy and will be placed in a specific area. He will do nothing but handle the dirty glasses, put them in the dishwasher and the bartender will do nothing but take clean glasses and make drinks from there.”

Before the pandemic, Nifty Fifty’s had already placed a high emphasis on customer health, with 30-minute sanitization checks in place. 

“We have always done cleanliness checks every half-hour,” said Jackie McGlynn, head of social media for the restaurant. “We make sure everything is clean and sanitized, including the bathrooms. That has always been one of our policies.”

Not only does Nifty Fifty’s have dining procedures in place, but its arcade is open with plexiglass shields at each game and the prize counter. The restaurant also allows customers to use its miniature golf course by spacing groups a few holes apart.  

As they continue safety measures, local restaurants are also planning for  changes to their indoor dining areas.  

“We are able to get a significant portion of seating outside,” Kronberger said. “We were lucky, but all that stuff costs money, too. We rewired things and put up all new lights.  All these restaurants are doing what they can at an extra expense when times are already tough … 

“We want indoor dining to happen as soon as possible.”