New Jersey will soon allow more diners to eat indoors, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday.
The governor will sign an executive order expanding indoor dining capacity from 25% to 35% starting Friday. It’ll be the first capacity expansion since Murphy allowed indoor dining to resume in early September. Capacity limits for gyms and weddings will see similar limit increases.
The order will also lift a statewide restriction on restaurant operating hours, allowing eateries to stay open past 10 p.m., though municipalities can still enact restrictions that could close businesses, including restaurants, as early as 8 p.m.
Bar seating is still prohibited, and other social distancing measures remain in effect.
The announcement follows weeks of scattered calls from lawmakers to expand hours for bars and restaurants ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, which is this weekend.
The decision was met with celebration from State Sens. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver) and Tony Bucco (R-Boonton), who in January called for extended hours on game day and who on Monday released a petition urging Murphy to ease the restrictions.
“I want to thank the Governor for listening to our common sense arguments that keeping the existing indoor dining restrictions and early 10 p.m. curfew would have driven more people to house parties where they could watch the full game,” Bucco said Monday. “The old restrictions no longer make sense when you consider the protocols that have been established and the resulting data.”
But Murphy said the expansion was unrelated to the Super Bowl, also warning residents that “this is not the year to let it rip.”
“This happens to be before the Super Bowl, but a far bigger chorus was asking us to do in particular for Sunday, which we were not going to do,” he said. “We’ve been noodling on the steps we’re taking today for at least a week to 10 days.”