Restaurants slam postponed reopening of indoor dining

Scheduled deliveries of fresh pineapples, veggies, meat and lobsters arrived as ordered at Langosta Lounge — an eatery on Asbury Park’s boardwalk. Workers still prepped and cleaned. But when Gov. Phil Murphy hit the pause button Monday on the scheduled reopening of indoor dining Thursday, it left owner Marilyn Schlossbach with way too much food and a bad taste in her mouth.

“I’m just trying to keep my business stable to get through in hopes that we save ourselves. And now to get another blow like that? I literally cried yesterday when I heard,” she said.

“We have enormous sympathy, but the alternative is worse and unacceptable,” Murphy said during Monday’s daily press briefing.

Murphy says he postponed a reset on indoor dining after seeing too many videos showing crowded venues, mostly at big shore bars like Donovan’s Reef, with no social distancing and few, if any, visible masks. But Jersey diners and restaurants forced to subsist on meagre incomes from just outdoor dining and take-out business felt wrongly targeted.

“I don’t punish both of my kids when one of them does something wrong. Why aren’t the players who are breaking the rules getting the impact of this?” Schlossbach said.

“We have a problem of enforcement. If we have establishments that aren’t following rules that are very clearly written out, then we need to enforce those people to get in line,” said Dallas Hlatky, COO of the Smith Restaurant Group.

“You’ve got the ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] and you’ve got the police, those are the people who should be enforcing the law. I certainly don’t support the behavior because it’s going to ruin it, and it did ruin it for everybody,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

Sen. Declan O’Scanlon is also critical of the governor’s action. But he says don’t slam the restaurants and give the overcrowded bars a chance to get it right.

“I’d rather do that than pull someone’s license and destroy the jobs of all the people that work there,” O’Scanlon said. “I was in touch with some of the bar owners that were in some of those videos, and they get it. They get that they screwed up.”

The governor’s order also hit the casino industry. Borgata says it won’t reopen on Thursday, and the rest can’t serve food or drinks. The restaurant lobby predicted one in five establishments could close because of the pandemic, and now this. It means workers that were rehired could get laid off again.

Bartender Mike Mixson’s lost 50 to 70% of his daily income.

“For me, it’s tough as well. Just working as many shifts as I can to make up for the money that’s not coming in,” he said.

Schlossbach says the thousands of dollars of food ordered ahead of Thursday is a loss.

“That food is either going go to waste or be donated and they have no way of making that money back. So if they were on the edge, now you’ve just put the other nail in the coffin,” Halvorsen said.

“This kind of stuff is just wearing me down. It’s wearing us all down. We’re fighting so hard,” Schlossbach said.

Restaurants can still offer outdoor dining, but Langosta Lounge lost $6,000 last Friday when it rained and they had to shut down. This regulatory rainout on indoor dining could last indefinitely