“When I hang up the phone, I’m going to cry.” New Jersey restaurant owners are appalled at the postponement of dinner indoors.

“I just gasped.”

Those were the words of Marilyn Schlossbach, the owner of three Asbury Park restaurants, in reaction to Governor Phil Murphy’s decision on Monday to postpone dinner indoors indefinitely, which was scheduled to start again this Thursday.

“I don’t blame the government,” he added. “I see that these operators (of bars and restaurants) violate the rules, and we are the ones who are playing by the rules that are being punished.”

Domenick Torlucci, executive chef and director of Stone Water at Lake Hopatcong, agreed.

“We are extremely discouraged with Governor Murphy’s decision to indefinitely postpone the return of food indoors,” said Torlucci. “We were both excited and fully prepared for this important next step. It’s unfortunate that the irresponsibility and failure of some bad operators ruin it for those of us who take service and safety seriously. ”

Moshe “Mo” Atzbi, owner of Hailey Harp & Pub in Metuchen, said he was “obviously annoyed by the news.” Although I understand that it is for the good of our New Jersey community, most companies need time to react to news of their capacity expansion. Once we receive that news, we have to jump on it. Asking us to start climbing and then pulling the rug out from under us is very inconvenient. ”

Murphy said he made his decision based on recent scenes from open-air bars and restaurants that show crowds full of ‘knuckles’ who don’t wear masks and ignore social estrangement.

“We have seen spikes in other states driven, in part, by the return of customers to indoor dining rooms, where they are sitting and not covering their faces, for significant periods of time,” the governor said in his daily coronavirus briefing. “We also feel driven to take this step because of what we’ve seen in some establishments across the state in recent times.”

At least one restaurant owner was “happy” with Murphy’s decision.

“We’ve even had clients walk away because they don’t want to wear a mask or follow our social distance safety guidelines,” said Uzziel C. Arias, president of Charrito’s, which has restaurants in Weehawken and Hoboken. As a restaurant owner, it is embarrassing and sad to see how many restaurants do not follow the 6 foot rule between tables and tons of people are completely neglected with the virus. This is a big concern for us, if people cannot follow these safety guidelines outside, inside it will be much worse. As a result, I am happy with your decision, no money is worth the safety of our staff and customers. ”

New Jersey reopened its cookouts on June 15 after about three months of allowing restaurants to only provide takeout or delivery food.

For restaurant owners, especially those on the coast, the postponement of indoor dining couldn’t have been worse, with the upcoming weekend of July 4, one of the most important weekends of the year for any restaurant.

Schlossbach wondered what happens to all the restaurant owners who bought before the holiday weekend. How long will restaurant owners, already operating on thin margins, have to wait for indoor food to take effect? One week? Two weeks? Plus?

“Now we can’t eat indoors because some people screwed it up,” Schlossbach said. “I’ve driven through places where even employees don’t obey the rules. If not, how do you expect your customers to do it? ”

Food indoors, when allowed, will have rules. Capacity will be limited to 25 percent of maximum seating capacity, excluding restaurant staff members. All clients should wear face covers unless they are eating. Guests cannot walk while drinking or eating and must remain seated.

Bill Chrisafinis said the 25 percent capacity rule would not be a smart business at Rutt’s Hut, New Jersey’s legendary hot dog joint or restaurants in general.

“What waiter or waitress will 25 percent (a restaurant that operates for) work for?” Chrisafinis, brother of Rutt’s Hut co-owner Gus Chrisafinis said.

Mike Hull, deputy general manager of Martell’s Tiki Bar in Point Pleasant Beach, said the governor’s announcement was a “relief” because the restaurant may, for the time being, delay enforcing 25 percent capacity and other rules.

“I understand why he’s doing it,” said Hull. “We were afraid to enter.”

Martell’s, known as New Jersey’s “first beach and tiki bar,” seats about 800 people indoors, with seven restaurants inside and outside.

Its sister restaurant, Martell’s Waters Edge in Bayville, will not offer indoor dining until 100 percent of its capacity is allowed, which doesn’t seem like a possibility anytime soon.

Torlucci, at Stone Water, understands that the governor “is being too cautious amid this outbreak,” but said a much better solution “would be to enforce the guidelines rather than punish the industry and nearly 350,000 people (in New Jersey) who work in it, in general. ”

“Changing the rules mid-game does no one any good,” said Atzbi of Hailey Harp & Pub. “If Murphy’s game is trying to scare people into staying home, he won.”

“No one is doing fireworks (at Asbury Park this weekend), there are no events,” said Schlossbach. “We were looking forward to (indoor dining). This is getting draining. ”

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Peter Genovese can be contacted at [email protected].