To help hospitality businesses such as restaurants, bars, breweries and caterers survive the COVID shutdown and overcome ongoing financial challenges, a Senate committee today approved a bill sponsored by Senator Paul Sarlo and Senate President Steve Sweeney to reduce “red tape” requirements for outdoor service and help local business districts to regain economic activity.

The bill, S2522, would facilitate reopening opportunities for restaurants, bars, and breweries to provide outdoor service on property they own such as decks, patios, yards and parking lots during the COVID-19 emergency without having to file an application with local planning or zoning boards. It would also allow licensed establishments to extend their liquor licenses to outdoor spaces without having to make a separate application and pay an additional fee to the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which is required by the current executive order.

“These businesses are important to local communities for the jobs they support, the economic activity they generate and the role they play in local business districts,” said Senator Sarlo. “Many of them are family owned businesses that are an integral part of their communities. We need to do what we can to keep them in business.”

“Restaurants, bars and caterers are economically vulnerable businesses that don’t have the financial reserves to survive an extended shutdown or dramatically reduced income,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester / Salem / Cumberland). “They not only have to struggle to survive the shutdown, they face potential problems in reduced business activity after they reopen. We need to find ways for them to return to business and operate with the safety measures that will protect their workers and customers.”

The legislation would also permit local governing bodies to close off public streets, sidewalks, and parking lots to allow restaurants, bars and breweries to serve food and alcoholic beverages to customers for consumption at outdoor tables owned by the establishments. This would allow restaurants, bars and breweries that lack their own outdoor spaces to serve their customers in the public right of way.

“We’re trying to provide every means possible for restaurants, bars and breweries that would otherwise remain closed, to open and conduct business,” said Senator Sarlo. “We should remove barriers to the reopening of restaurants and bars for outdoor service by reducing red tape and eliminating fees. We also need to set dates for restarting indoor service and catering businesses so they can make the plans needed to emerge from the shutdown. Because catered events are planned in advance, they need to know when they can reopen.”

Under the current executive order, restaurants and bars are permitted to open for outdoor dining only beginning on June 15th after three months of pandemic-imposed restrictions that limited them to takeout and delivery service. However, many restaurants and bars are finding it difficult to reopen on June 15th because they don’t have an outdoor space in which to provide service or they must wait for permits to be approved by state or local officials.

Under the bill social distances guidelines as proscribed by the New Jersey Department of Health would have to be followed. The bill was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.