Local restaurants open up indoor dining services to residents

Patrons enjoy their outdoor dining experience at Old Man Rafferty's on June 23. Old Man Rafferty's began offering indoor dining services to residents on September 4.

Indoor dining is back in the fold for some restaurants in Hillsborough Township.

Since Gov. Phil Murphy allowed establishments to open indoor dining services at 25% capacity on Sept. 4, six restaurants in the township are currently providing indoor dining as an option to residents.

Old Man Rafferty’s was ready to go last weekend. According to the restaurant’s General Manager Matt Hyland, Old Man Rafferty’s is able to seat 30 tables at six feet apart in its dining room area and have upwards of around 75 people inside at a time.

The restaurant also has 30 tables spaced outside on its patio and front lawn that has helped the establishment do good business this summer with outdoor dining, he said, which began on June 15.

Hyland said the restaurant has been packed every night at around 5 p.m., with residents coming out to eat and enjoy the outdoor bar amenities.

“Outdoor dining has been outstanding,” Hyland said. “Our patio has been full each night. People have become very comfortable to eat outside. We’re very fortunate to be able to seat 30 tables outside and serve many patrons.”

The first few days of indoor dining for Old Man Rafferty’s had been slow, Hyland admits. Outdoor dining, on the other hand, was very strong over Labor Day weekend, he said.

Hyland hopes as word gets out about the restaurant providing indoor services and with COVID-19 numbers slowing down that more people will feel more comfortable coming out for indoor dining.

A big part of Old Man Rafferty’s success this summer in the eyes of Hyland was the support the eatery got from the town and the Hillsborough Business Association (HBA).

The daily newsletters from HBA Advocate David Kois and the permits given out from the Hillsborough Township Planning and Zoning Department have been a huge help to the restaurant, Hyland said.

Kois and the HBA have been hard at work since the governor’s announcement on indoor dining and sending out information to all the restaurants in the township for their owners to know what is needed to offer indoor dining services to patrons.

Along with his daily newsletter, Kois also promotes what services each restaurant is providing currently on the HBA Guide to Hillsborough Restaurants page.

The availability of indoor dining is something Kois is hoping will help smaller restaurants in the township that don’t have the space available to them where they are located to offer outdoor dining.

He’s also happy for the larger eateries in the town that have been anticipating reopening indoor dining for the past few months.

“I know a couple places are very excited to be opened up for indoor dining,” Kois said. “The HBA is sharing any rules and information we can on indoor dining to the restaurants. We’re here for them and excited for those starting up indoor dining.”

The Landing, Hillsborough Star Diner, Applebee’s and IHOP are larger eateries that are also currently providing indoor dining services to customers.

Family Mexican Grill, a mom-and-pop type restaurant in town, has also begun indoor accommodations.

Melanie Jimenez, the daughter of the restaurant’s owner Sergio Jimenez, said they have set up three table areas that are separated by a wooden barrier.

No more than three people can sit at a table and the maximum amount of people in the restaurant at a time is 10, she said.

The restaurant also has two tables stationed outside for outdoor dining. Jimenez said that most of the restaurant’s business during the pandemic has been through takeout and delivery and that they have kept busy the last six months.

Since providing outdoor dining and most recently indoor dining services, the restaurant has seen former customers start to come back to eat at the establishment, she said.

“It’s been good. People have been coming in to eat,” Jimenez said. “People who stopped coming during the pandemic have come back in.”

Restaurants in the Hillsborough community will have the opportunity to promote their businesses and show off their delicious cuisines later this month when the HBA holds its third annual Hillsborough Restaurant Week from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4.