The Empty Diner Booth and Other Covid-19 Considerations

Diner booth

MORRISTOWN – Some joke that the town’s business district is full of bars/restaurants, banks and not much else.

Could be, but beginning Monday at noon, a big difference is that the banks were open; most of the restaurants were not.

In what clearly is a microcosm of a state gripped in coronavirus-panic, the streets were mostly devoid of people on a rather pleasant Monday afternoon.

An executive order Sunday night by Mayor Tim Dougherty ordered that all bars and restaurants be limited to take-out effective noon Monday. Since alcohol legally can’t be served in a “to-go” cup, the mayor’s edict rules out the most lucrative part of the business for many restaurants.

Over at the Dublin Pub, a watering hole that proudly describes itself as the oldest in town, owner John Mongey showed up late morning,  knowing he had 300 pounds of corn beef on hand. While it’s easy to forget – especially with all the parade cancellations – St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow.

Mongey said he plans to stay open on Tuesday, hoping he’d be able to sell many a take-out corn beef dinner. But after that, he’s closing down. He reasoned that staying open to sell what would be on average, a $15 take-out dinner would not be worth it.

And that seemed to be the mood all around what has become a pretty hopping drinking and eating town.
Dougherty’s letter of the law order suggests that restaurants will be open to handle a brisk take-out trade. Probably not happening.

“The Frog is closed already,” said a beer company rep visiting the Dublin this morning. That would be the Famished Frog. As I walked around town, I found many other restaurants with locked doors. Clearly the owners weren’t interested in handling take-out. In some cases, it would be impractical, like at the upscale Grand Cafe. Whoever heard of fine dining in a container?

Starbucks was open, but the chairs were atop tables and the new policy was simple – buy something and depart. Guess it really is a catastrophe if one can’t dawdle in a Starbucks with a cup of coffee.

Still, I spent a few minutes chatting – perhaps improperly – with an official from Denville who happened to be in town. He told me that Denville has closed the public parks.

O.K. One understands the need to curtail social gatherings, but given the fact good health is related to staying in shape, isn’t it counterproductive to shut down places where people can get some exercise?

The Morristown Diner is open 24 hours – usually.

Owner Tony Louca said he plans to close – at least for a few days.

How about take-out, which would seem to fit a 24-hour-a-day diner?

Louca said he’s not ready for that – at least not yet.

“I don’t have the containers,” he said. Then, he stated the obvious.

“It’s tough for everyone. People have bills to pay. mortgages to pay.”

That’s not an idle concern and it quickly gets us around to a pertinent, but contrarian, question.

Could this wholesale shutting down of society be a greater long-term danger to New Jersey and America than the virus itself?  At the moment, we are seeing a herd mentality among politicians, none of whom seems willing to ask that question. At least, publicly.

The answer, of course, can be “no.” But the debate should take place.

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