Hillsborough restaurant owners ‘excited’ to expand capacity for indoor dining

Outdoor dining setup for Caffe Piazza in Hillsborough. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Outdoor dining setup for Caffe Piazza in Hillsborough. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

As spring approaches, restaurants across the State of New Jersey will begin to welcome more patrons into their establishments.

Restaurants will be allowed to expand their capacity for indoor dining purposes to 50% starting on March 19 as per Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order earlier this month.

In addition to restaurants being able to expand capacity to 50%, fitness and recreation centers, barbershops, beauty salons and other personal care establishments will be able to open at 50% capacity as well.

Hillsborough Township Mayor Shawn Lipani said in a statement released to centraljersey.com that he believes the increased capacity for those establishments will have a “positive impact” on the Hillsborough business community.

“While I believe that increasing the capacity limits for our restaurants is a step in the right direction, and will have a positive impact on our business community, we await additional increases to the capacity limits,” Lipani said. “With increased deployment of vaccines, I would expect to see that sooner than later.”

The mayor said Hillsborough Business Advocate David Kois and the Hillsborough Business Association will continue to provide more information and updates on the matter.

Restaurants will be able to host their largest number of patrons for indoor dining since the start of the pandemic last March.

Many eating establishments in the Hillsborough area, such as Old Man Rafferty’s, hope to take advantage of the opportunity to serve more patrons.

“We’re very excited to expand our capacity to 50%,” said Old Man Rafferty’s General Manager Dylan Rose. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

According to Rose, Old Man Rafferty’s will be allowed to serve 100 patrons inside at 50% capacity. The restaurant will have around 50 tables available to sit people that will expand through its three dining rooms and bar-top area.

As for smaller restaurants like Caffe Piazza, the expansion of indoor dining is a big step forward in bringing more people and also staff into the restaurant after relying more on takeout orders throughout the last year.

Caffe Piazza owner Antonio Ruffa said his establishment will able to set up eight to nine tables inside and serve around 40 people at 50% capacity.

Welcoming in more patrons for indoor dining will allow Ruffa to hire back some of his staff he had to let go during the pandemic.

“As you improve capacity you have to add more manpower and we’re obviously looking forward to doing that,” Ruffa said.

Like Lipani, Ruffa believes that increases in vaccinations will help give people more confidence in feeling comfortable eating out.

Ruffa does expect takeout orders to quiet down a bit with the expansion of indoor dining but said his restaurant will continue to push takeout opportunities for residents who still prefer to eat at home for the time being.

With warmer weather on the horizon, Old Man Rafferty’s is currently in the process of expanding outdoor seating for guests in addition to the outdoor dining options on its patio to bring in more business.

The new expansion will be completely under a tent will astroturf on the ground with tables and chairs, according to Rose. April 1 is the goal to have the new outdoor dining expansion setup completed, he said.