When Atlantic City casinos were permitted to reopen on July 2, 2020, after being closed for more than 100 days, it was exciting news. However, for the first time ever, numerous special health and safety measures applied, including mandatory masks, social distancing, and no indoor dining, drinking, or smoking.
Initially, Gov. Murphy planned to allow indoor dining starting July 2 as well. However, due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, which he blamed largely on “a few knuckleheads” holding large indoor parties, only a few days prior, he revoked that provision.
The sudden change in plans caught the casinos off guard. And the continued ban on indoor dining bothered the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa so much, instead of opening to the public on July 6 as it had planned, it did not open until July 26.
Customers also found the restrictions annoying. Health and safety concerns weren’t the only reasons the casino hotels had no trouble maintaining the 25% capacity attendance guidelines. Many people who wanted to visit Atlantic City this summer probably stayed away rather than put up with the inconvenience of being unable to eat or drink a thing the entire time they were on the casino floor.
In fact, July, which is usually a peak time of year for Atlantic City tourism, wasn’t in 2020. Instead, the casinos reported a decline in both visitation and gaming revenue in July this year, and it would be reasonable to assume that the ban on indoor dining was a huge factor.
All summer long, except in hotel rooms, no indoor dining existed
Overnight guests who didn’t want to wait on long lines for takeout could order food and beverages instead from room service. Otherwise, even if it was raining, these were your only choices:
- Book a table at a restaurant offering limited outdoor dining at least a week in advance and hope the weather would cooperate.
- Order takeout after spending an eternity online and then find a bench somewhere to eat it.
- Eat at home or bring your own food and then find a bench somewhere to eat it.
I found the first option by far the most pleasant of the three. However, there were slim pickings because many restaurants remained closed. Also, I found out from experience that showing up without a reservation or trying to reserve a table a day or two before was an exercise in futility. On one occasion I made a reservation a week ahead of time online (or at least I thought I did). However, when I arrived at the restaurant, the host found no record of my reservation, and I was still turned away.
On a brighter note, when I complained at the player’s card desk, I received a $20 comp for takeout at a fast food place.
Indoor dining at casinos (and elsewhere in NJ) returns Fri., Sept. 4
Better late than never. On Mon., August 31, Gov. Murphy held a press conference where he finally announced the news we have all been waiting and hoping to hear all summer. Starting at 6 a.m. on Fri., Sept. 4, indoor service at NJ restaurants and bars can resume!
However, the same rules apply as in outdoor dining. Restaurants and bars can only operate at 25 percent capacity, and tables must be spaced six feet apart.
In addition, all staff must wear face masks at all times, and patrons must also keep their masks on the entire time they are on the premises except when eating or drinking.
Additional important guidelines
As per the executive order that the governor issued on Monday, all of the following requirements will also be in effect.
- Parties sitting together at the same table cannot exceed six persons.
- Parties sitting together at a bar cannot exceed four persons.
- Restaurants that offer food service at the bar will allow patrons to eat at the bar provided they maintain social distancing.
- Servers must deliver food and beverages to patrons. No self-service (i.e., salad bars or buffets) will be permitted.
- All food and beverage consumption must take place at designated tables only.
- Windows must be open to ensure proper fresh air flow into the dining areas. (Gov. Murphy did not address what the restaurants should do under inclement weather conditions or during the winter, however.)
- Air conditioner units must be turned on to allow the maximum amount of outdoor air to flow into the dining areas. HEPA filters should be used. Restaurants also need to inspect and evaluate their heating and air conditioning units frequently to make sure they are functioning properly.
- Items such as doors, table surfaces, and menus being used by multiple patrons must be disinfected, and hand-sanitizing stations should be offered.
- Restaurants must post signs informing patrons that social distancing is still in effect and that anyone with a fever or other symptoms of illness needs to stay away. It is also the responsibility of each restaurant to conduct daily health checks of their employees.
- Restaurants are encouraged to take reservations. But if you need to wait for a table, you should wait away from the restaurant if social distancing isn’t possible.
Drinking and smoking
Surprisingly, at last Monday’s press conference, Gov. Murphy did not address a very important question that many visitors to the casinos must be wondering about. Can beverages be ordered and consumed on the casino floor and in the sportsbooks? I asked the same question at William Hill Sportsbook this week, but no one working there at the time knew.
However, according to a Sept. 4 article on ThePressofAtlanticCity.com, the answer is yes but with some restrictions. You can only order a beverage from a server or bartender, and you must be seated while drinking it. While you can carry your beverage with you from one location to another, you must wait until you are sitting down again to drink it. While drinking, you can lower your mask, but otherwise, including between sips, the mask must cover your nose and mouth.
But forget the governor’s order of a few days ago allowing smoking–He revoked it. NO SMOKING is permitted inside any AC casino!
As for indoor smoking, on Tues., Sept. 1, Gov Murphy said yes to that too, but any elation by those who smoke when they heard that news was short-lived.
The earlier decree permitted smoking to resume indoors at the same places where it was allowed previously.
But unlike the decision to restore indoor dining, which virtually everyone welcomes, the decision to allow smoking on the casino floor again raised considerable controversy. Many people, including health experts along with casino employees and guests, have expressed their concerns. The general consensus was that reintroducing smoking, especially at this time, while the virus is still ongoing, would be a mistake.
Thus, after reassessing the pros and cons, on the same day that smoking inside the casinos was going to resume, Gov. Murphy announced at a press conference that he decided to revoke his executive order allowing smoking.
“I am announcing we will take administrative action to prohibit smoking in indoor casinos. We have looked closely at the science and agree with experts that have concluded that allowing smoking is too large a risk to take,” Murphy stated.
Was Gov. Murphy’s decision to bring back indoor dining and drinking the right one for Atlantic City and New Jersey at this time? Time will tell.
Hopefully, Gov. Murphy will not also do a repeat about-face on his decision to allow dining and drinking inside the casinos. If so, it would be his third abrupt ruling change this year. But was his decision to bring back indoor dining and drinking at this time the right one? That remains to be seen.
Murphy indicated that he was aware of the desire of many people to see indoor food and beverage consumption restored in New Jersey sooner rather than later. However, his decision was predicated on when rather than if the resumption of these activities dining would be safe. Meanwhile, dining outdoors will continue at many restaurants as long as weather permits.
Murphy also stated that if a new spike in COVID-19 suggests that his decision to restore indoor dining and drinking was premature, revoking it remains a possibility, much like what happened just before the casinos reopened in July.
He cautioned that we can’t afford to lessen our vigilance and said that “there is no room for error and no excuse for being a knucklehead.”
Planning a Labor Day Weekend visit to Atlantic City?
Here is a complete (as of press time) guide as to which casino restaurants will be open for indoor dining then and beyond
- Buca di Beppo: Daily: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Dunkin Donuts: 24/7
- Guy’ Fieri’s Chophouse*: Sun.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 5 p.m.-10 p.m. (Outdoor dining is also available.)
- Harry’s Oyster Bar*: Sun.-Thurs. 12 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 12 p.m.-10 p.m. (Outdoor dining is also available.)
- Johnny Rockets: Sun.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 12 p.m.-12 a.m.
- Sack O’ Subs: Sun.-Thurs. 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 8 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m.-12 a.m.
- Walt’s Primo Pizza: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m.-12 a.m.
- Bobby Flay Steak*: Wed.-Sun. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
- Angeline*: Sun.-Tues. 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
- Izakaya*: Sun. 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Mon., Fri. & Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
- Old Homestead Steak House*: Sun.-Tues. 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
- The Metropolitan: Sat.-Mon. 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
- N.O.W.: Sun.-Thurs. 12 p.m.-2 a.m.: Fri. & Sat. 12 p.m.-4 a.m.
- BetMGM Sportsbook & Bar: Daily 12 p.m.-10 p.m.
- Bread & Butter: 24/7
- Borgata Baking Company: Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-12 a.m.; Fri. & Sat. 7 a.m.-1 a.m.
- Starbucks: Mon.-Thurs.7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 7 a.m.-12 a.m.; Sat. 6 a.m.-12 a.m..; Sun. 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
- Borgata Beer Garden: Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
- Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill*: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. (daily except Tues.-Thurs.)
- Morton’s The Steakhouse*: Daily 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
- Nero’s Italian Steakhouse*: Mon., Thurs., Sun. 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Betty’s Back Room, Fri. & Sat. 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
- KWI Noodle Bar: Mon.-Thurs. 3 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri. 6 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Sat.-Sun. 12 p.m.-1 a.m.
- Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse*: Fri.-Mon. 4 p.m.-closing time
- Chart House*: Fri.-Sun. 4 p.m.-closing time
- Chairman’s Club: (Elite & Chairman’s members only) Days and times may vary.
- Michael Patrick’s: Fri. 9 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-1 a.m.; Mon. 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Bill’s Bar & Burger, 12 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Sunday
- Lillie’s Asian Cuisine: Fri. 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m.-2 a.m.
- Council Oak Steaks & Seafood*: Wed.-Thurs. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 5:30 p.m.-11p.m.; Sat. 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.
- Kuro*: Fri. 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
- YOUYU Noodle Bar: Mon.-Thurs. 3 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 3 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sat. 12 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sun. 12 p.m.-10 p.m.
- Hard Rock Café*: Mon.-Thurs. 8 a.m.- 12 a.m.; Fri. & Sat. 8 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.-12 a.m.
- Sugar Factory: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.- 12 a.m.; Sat. & Sun. 8 a.m.-12 a.m.
- Legends Lounge (Rock Royalty and X Card members only – Seminole Ballroom) Days and times may vary.
- Plum Lounge (X Card members only) Days and times may vary.
- DAER Deck (X Card members only): Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
At this time, these are the only indoor dining options.
- Martorano’s*: Fri.-Sun. 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
- McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood: Mon.-Thurs. 3:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.& Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
However, AC Burger Co., Coastal Craft Kitchen & Bar, and Gordon Ramsay Steak (advance reservations required) continue to offer outdoor dining.
- American Cut*: Tues.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sun. 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
- Cafe 500: Mon.-Thurs. 6 p.m-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 6 p.m.-12 a.m.
- Dolce Mare*: Mon. & Thurs. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
All other open eateries offer outdoor dining or takeout only.
- Breadsticks Café: Daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Eastwind and Mukashi* – Eastwind: Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.–12 a.m. Mukashi Sushi Bar: Sun.-Thurs. 12 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 12 p.m.-12 a.m.
- Landshark Bar & Grill: Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.-12 a.m. (subject to change based on season and demand)
- Gallagher’s Steak House* (opening Sept. 5): Fri.-Sun. 4 p.m.-9 p.m.
- Palm Restaurant*: Daily 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
- Cuba Libre* : Fri.-Sun. 4 p.m.-11 p.m.
- Broadway Burger Bar: Fri. & Sat. 2 p.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. 1 p.m.-8 p.m.
- La Petite Creperie: Sun.-Thurs. 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-3 a.m.
- PF Chang’s* Daily 12 p.m.-9 p.m.
- • Starbucks: The Quarter, Daily 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Starbucks: The Marketplace, Daily 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
- Carmine’s*: 12 p.m.-10 p.m.
Chelsea Five Gastropub remains closed for indoor dining but continues to offer poolside dining daily for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
*Advance reservations are strongly recommended.
Note that all of the above information is subject to change, and as an alternative to indoor dining, all of the Atlantic City casino hotels continue to offer both outdoor dining and takeout. Check with the property you will be visiting directly to double-check the hours of operation of any eatery that interests you.
Reaction to the news that indoor dining is again an option at Atlantic City casinos
Not every restaurant is choosing to open at this time. Some feel that only being to operate at 25 percent capacity won’t be profitable. However, the reaction from casino representatives, outside organizations, and the general public has been overwhelmingly positive.
For example, Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, said that Resorts is “prepared and ready to safely welcome back guests to dine indoors at our award-winning restaurants,” and the casino is “committed to providing a clean and safe experience for customers.”
Likewise, here is what Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, had to say:
“We are very pleased to resume indoor dining this Friday, allowing us to bring valued team members back to work….Opening indoor dining brings back a key amenity that our guests know, love, and deserve.”
Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism at Stockton University, agreed that “having restrictions lifted before Labor Day is a decision that is certainly welcomed by the (casino) industry.” In addition, “having indoor dining will make a visit to the casinos more attractive, especially to visitors who may have postponed their summer vacation plans,” Bokunewicz pointed out.
There is no doubt that visitors to the casinos will welcome the fact that the long stretch of time is finally over when takeout or being forced to eat and drink outdoors or in one’s hotel room were the only options. While we had no choice but to try to accept the “new normal,” what a relief it is at last to be able to enjoy a partial return to the “old normal” with indoor food and beverage service.
More importantly, thousands of casino restaurant and bar employees who have been laid off since mid-March can finally return to work.