Quarantine, social distancing, masks, and a seemingly endless stream of Zoom meetings for many seem to have conspired to give people across the nation a severe and extended case of cabin fever.
Nowhere, perhaps, has this upheaval hit harder in New Jersey than at the shore. Countless seasonal businesses that depend on a healthy, four-month summer tourist trade to get them through the rest of the year, have found themselves struggling to create and implement new business models just to tread water until they can resume some kind of traditional service.
And, by most measures, those are the lucky ones, as an estimated 100,000 small businesses across the country have closed their doors—a consequence of the global pandemic and the resulting government restrictions and guidelines for people and commerce.
So with this as a sobering backdrop, many shore businesses—especially restaurants and resorts—are understandably excited about the reopening this month, albeit in a slightly different manner than in years past.
“There have been a lot of moving parts to reopening this year,” said George Andy, Managing Partner of La Mer Beachfront Resort in Cape May. “But the key for us has been anticipating those parts and effectively addressing them.”
Central to preparing for this month’s reopening to the public, according to Andy, has been his ability to watch other states as they have lifted restrictions on their businesses. “I watched Pennsylvania to see how people there were handling their openings,” he stated. “And I was able to see what worked and what didn’t, and then apply those lessons here.”
Echoing that sentiment is Ron Gorodesky, President of Refined Hospitality, which manages The Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor. “I ate outdoors in Pennsylvania earlier this month to see what the experience would be like,” he said. “While it was slightly strange at first, I think people at the shore are going to be pleasantly surprised how great outdoor dining is.”
Certainly, outdoor dining is nothing new, but coming hot off the heels of a pandemic requires some changes and innovation.
Both Andy and Gorodesky point out that each of their respective properties will follow state Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines. This way, guests can rest easy, knowing that their safety and that of the staff is protected to the greatest extent possible.
That means, among other things, that tables will be at least six feet apart, and no more than eight people can sit at a table. Servers and other restaurant staff will wear masks. In the case of the Reeds, diners will be required to wear masks while walking to their tables, and hotel staff will also be required to wear masks in public areas of the hotel. “This is our requirement, not the government’s,” Gorodesky said.
“To focus on opening, we’ve been talking to our vendors to line up product that hasn’t been available since the pandemic started,” said Andy, whose Pier House Restaurant and Wine Bar at La Mer offers a terrace and lawn for outdoor seating. “During the summer, we’ll be changing our menu to reflect the availability of products. And that’s not a bad thing.”
At the Reeds, which has four restaurants (three of which have outdoor seating and are open this month), Gorodesky said, “We are doing QR (Quick Response) codes that you can scan to get the menu on your cell phone, or we can provide a disposable menu.”
While these restaurants have clearly adapted to best serve their guests during a public health crisis, it has not been without some pain on their part.
“We’ve lost a lot of tables this year—about 200 seats,” noted Gorodesky. “But we still offer great seating for a great meal.”
Andy expressed a similar sentiment: “We’ll be operating at about 60% of our maximum capacity during June and until the state allows restaurants to fully open again. Hopefully, that won’t be too far off.”
With this loss of seating that is common to all New Jersey restaurant at this point comes a couple of tips from Gorodetsky for those visiting the Jersey Shore this summer.
“First, make reservations,” he said, noting that while the Reeds has never accepted reservations for its outdoor dining before, they will be doing so this year to help minimize the number of people standing around waiting for tables.
“Second,” he noted, “be flexible with your time—and be patient. The seven o’clock reservation that you’ve been accustomed to will be harder to get because there will be fewer tables.”
Although this has been a very challenging year across the board, it has been especially so for those in the hospitality industry. But there is still optimism to be found.
“I think this summer, despite COVID, is shaping up to be a decent and busy one,” Gorodesky concluded. “It won’t be great, because restaurants need all of their tables for that to happen, but there is at least a growing light at the end of the tunnel.”