NJ’s 24-hour diners — will they exist post-pandemic?
Even in New Jersey, it's hard to find a diner running 24 hours a day during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
With an indoor service curfew of 10 p.m., it doesn't make much economic sense for these around-the-clock establishments to keep the lights on all night for only pickup or delivery.
But looking ahead, diners are uncertain whether the 24-hour model, or even late-night hours, can hold up when life returns to some type of normalcy.
"I have no idea what's going to happen — are people going to start going to bars?" said Bill Stathopoulos, owner of Broad Street Diner in Hamilton.
The diner on South Broad Street would typically be open every second of every day. Hours have been cut significantly since March, and staff levels are at about half, as indoor establishments in the Garden State remain limited to 25% capacity.
On the weekends, Skylark Fine Diner & Lounge in Edison can typically fill the full 25% with customers. But during the week, it's hard to fill half of that allotted space, according to managing partner Chris Kakos.
Lifting the curfew for indoor service would make a huge difference for business, Kakos said, because the establishment has a full-service bar.
Kakos would like the diner's hours to return to where they were pre-pandemic, but he can't guarantee that will happen. At the same time, he said, diners are constantly adjusting to "stay relevant" in a competitive market.
"If we can't get back to that fun family atmosphere, there's going to be a huge void throughout our communities and throughout or state," Kakos said. "I don't want that to go away ... It's part of what makes us Jersey, to a certain degree."
In normal times, Park Nine Diner in Freehold would keep its doors open until 2 a.m. on weekend nights, as long as people were filling tables. According to owner John Ftikas, that likely won't be necessary moving forward because "people's behavior has changed now."
"I think we'll be OK for the time being — as far as for how long, I can't tell," Ftikas said.
Returning to a 24/7 schedule is "still up in the air" at Ocean Bay Diner in South Amboy, a manager told New Jersey 101.5. Right now, the diner closes nightly around 8:30 or 9, before the indoor-service rule goes into effect.
Park Place Diner in Matawan would typically stay open until 1 a.m. during the week and until 3 a.m. on the weekends. Even if all restrictions were lifted, general manager Patrick Giorgiantonio feels those late-night hours wouldn't return for another two or three years.
"Everyone's routine has changed, and they've conformed to what we know now," Giorgiantonio said.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.