Restaurants across the State of New Jersey were able to start offering outdoor dining services to patrons last week.
Hillsborough Township Business Advocate David Kois and the Hillsborough Business Association have been working together with local restaurant owners who are eager to set up outdoor dining for their customers.
According to the Hillsborough Township website, 11 restaurants in town are currently able to provide outdoor dining services to residents.
“We have been working with restaurants every step of the way,” Kois said. “Some places in the town are doing well with outdoor dining so far. We’re doing the best we can to figure out ways to help restaurants with outdoor dining.”
Kois has worked in tandem with the Hillsborough Township zoning, health and fire safety departments to help local restaurants set up outdoor dining areas that meet the qualification of the COVID-19 safety guidelines that have been handed down by the state.
Some restaurants like the Star Diner have been able to set up outdoor dining services in their parking lots by setting up a tent for seating and tables with umbrellas as well.
Restaurants such as Old Man Rafferty’s and The Landing that already have a patio for outdoor dining services have expanded seating to the lawn on their property.
Cafe Piazza and Cafe Graziella are restaurants in a shopping plaza that are using the sidewalks in accordance to their zoning property to hold outdoor dining.
“We’ve been out in the field working with restaurants to secure areas where they can hold outdoor dining while being safe and meeting all the social distancing guidelines,” Kois said.
An emphasis on advertising and marketing on social media have been heavily encouraged by Kois and the Hillsborough Business Association to local restaurants during the pandemic.
Kois said he has told restaurant owners to promote what operations they are currently offering to keep local residents informed of their services.
If the restaurant is providing outdoor dining, Kois has reiterated to owners to advertise how they are following social distancing instructions to keep everyone safe while dining.
The Hillsborough Business Association is also promoting on its Facebook page and website the restaurants and businesses that are currently open in town.
A big help, too, for local restaurants, Kois said, was the Township Committee announcing they were waiving the outdoor dining fee for restaurants as part of a temporary outdoor dining permit that will be offered through the township’s Zoning Department.
Cafe Piazza is taking advantage of the permit as it offers full outdoor dining services to their customers for the first time. The restaurant has offered some outdoor dining options in the past during the summer months, owner Antonio Ruffa said, but not to the extent it is offering people now.
Cafe Piazza has 13 tables lined up on the sidewalk in front of its establishment and has a covering to block traffic from the outside to allow patrons to enjoy a nice dining experience.
So far, Ruffa said outdoor dining has been good and that last week the restaurant had a lot of residents come out to dine at the establishment.
“Things have been going well for us since we incorporated outdoor dining last week,” Ruffa said. “People have been coming out and it’s been nice. A lot of people can’t wait to get out and we appreciate that, but there are a lot of people that are still not ready to come out.”
Couples Marie and Michael Avolio and Marie and Albert Laggini came out to celebrate Al’s 93rd birthday at Cafe Piazza on July 23. Both couples are Hillsborough residents and are happy to be able to get out and support local businesses.
“It’s very important for local business owners to have outdoor dining,” Marie Avolio said. “It’s a way for them to survive. We have to support the small business owners in the town. I’m happy to see some of them open and look forward to them opening up indoor dining when they’re able to.”
Reservations are not required, but Ruffa strongly recommends people do make reservations.
Because of the support and success the restaurant has had with takeout during the pandemic from the community, Ruffa hopes the addition of outdoor dining will continue to bring in more business.
Old Man Rafferty’s has a total of about 29 tables for outdoor dining, which includes an outdoor bar. General Manager Matt Hyland said the restaurant has had most tables filled each night since opening up outdoor dining on June 15. The restaurant is averaging around 132 guests on the weekdays and around 265 patrons on the weekend.
“It’s been going really well so far,” Hyland said. “We need a good crowd like we have been getting after the loss of revenue we have had over the last few months.”
On June 4, Old Man Rafferty’s started holding a special event called Car Hop Dining for customers once a week. The social distancing dining event includes dinner and live entertainment from your car. Cars are spaced out by every other parking space for social distancing purposes, Hyland said.
The restaurant has had great success with the event so far and plans to hold a couple Car Hop Dining soirees a week throughout the summer for customers.
About 45 spots are available for the show and you must make a reservation for the event, added Hyland.
It is first come, first served for the restaurant.
During the pandemic, Old Man Rafferty’s did a Mother’s Day takeout brunch that they had about 150 orders for and did a grilling package for customers to celebrate Father’s Day which included pre-ordered items such as steaks, hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad.
“You have to think out outside the box during these times to generate revenue,” Hyland said. “We have gotten great reviews from people in the town about our special events.”