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The reopenings have begun, and people have been flocking en masse to beaches, bars, and any party they could find. As a result, there have been many accounts of dangerous overcrowding during the present pandemic. You can see an example in a video that went viral from a party at the Jersey Shore breaking all of the social distancing rules. This video showed a large crowd of densely pack youths dancing without a care, or a mask, like it was any year but 2020.
The disregard for social distancing came as a shock since we are just beginning to claw our way out of quarantine mode. So it looks like the people are ready to party. But are the businesses ready for the crowds?
There was recently a recent report that 12 Coronavirus cases could be linked back to Jersey Shore. In a response to these ill-timed events, Governor Phil Murphy stated, “If we see businesses refuse to comply with the common sense and life-saving guidance that we have put in place, we will have no choice but to begin making examples out of them.”
I was interested to see how and if bars and restaurants are implementing this “life-saving guidance” to deter the spread of COVID-19. Both NY and NJ will soon be entering Phase 3 of reopening, and businesses need to hit the ground running. Anything that I learn here may help my work in marketing for local businesses and nightlife. Also, a good party would be a welcome bonus after months of Stay-At-Home orders and shutdowns that seemed to have no end.
So I gathered a few masks and hand sanitizer bottles from my dwindling supply and drove down to Belmar Beach on the weekend of June 26th. There I would risk life and liver to do some first-hand investigative research into Jersey Shore bars.
If you are planning to visit the Jersey Shore and wondering about the safety measures, or have an interest in the challenges businesses are facing as they reopen, then this article will fill you in. You will soon see that some places did a far better job than others in “preventing the spread.”
To understand the current state of things, we are now in the late stages of Phase 2 of reopenings in NJ. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 150, and most recently Executive Order No. 157, with guidance from the NJ health department. These orders allow businesses to reopen with restrictions like keeping 6 feet of space between tables, face mask requirements, and capacity restrictions. Here are the official documents to download if you would like to know all of the details:
Many of these requirements are behind the scenes. So I was on the lookout for those that guests can visibly confirm. Here is a list of the specific health and safety protocols from Executive Order 20-014, that I checked for:
- (1b) Post signage at the entrance that states that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 should enter the food or beverage establishment;
- (1c) Limit seating to a maximum of eight (8) customers per table and arrange seating to achieve a minimum distance of six feet (6 ft) between parties;
- (1d) Rope off or otherwise mark tables, chairs, and barstools that are not to be used;
- (1e) Demarcate 6 feet of spacing in patron waiting areas;
- (1f) Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors, sidewalks, and signage on walls to ensure that customers remain at least 6 ft apart in line(s)…
- (1m) Place conspicuous signage at entrance alerting staff and customers to the required 6 ft of physical distance;
- (2d) Require all employees to wear face coverings,
- (3a) Inform customers that safety measures such as social distancing, wearing face coverings when they are away from their table
- (3f) Encourage the use of digital menus;
- 3(h) Provide a hand sanitizer station for customers.
I made a mental checklist with the above items, and summarized each visit with three main aspects:
- Health Protocols (signage and communication)
- Overcrowding (group sizes)
- Enforcement of health protocols and social distancing
The beach is an integral part of the Jersey Shore experience. So let’s start this story there.
Belmar Beach and Boardwalk
Belmar Beach is one of the most well-known party beaches in NJ. It is home to popular bars/dance clubs like DJai’s, Oasis, and Bar A. The beach is clean, the crowds are lively, the parties can get pretty wild.
It has been over a year since my first unforgettable excursion to Belmar Beach. And with the current pandemic, I didn’t have high hopes. But upon arrival, I found it to be a bustling scene. The boardwalk had steady foot traffic with crowds of young teens and adults ranging up to their mid-30s in age. The pandemic didn’t seem to change the vibe at all. It was a normal summer day down at the Shore.
Health & Safety Protocols at Belmar Beach
There were attendants stationed at each beach entry point along the boardwalk. You could identify them by the blue and white umbrellas attached to beach lounge chairs. Nearby there were some beach rules posted. Otherwise, the attendants were only checking for the beach passes required to enter the beach, and had no other apparent purpose.
The bathrooms were unattended but had signs posted requiring guests to wear a mask to enter. There were also markings on the floor indicating the 6-foot separation for those waiting on line.
Despite the posted mask requirement, when I entered the bathroom, I found a man changing his son’s clothes at the changing station. And both were maskless. There were also a few others who entered and used the bathroom without masks. This precaution was prominent but ignored.
The only sign with safety warnings was at the booth where you purchase the beach badge. This sign stated that symptomatic people are not allowed and urged social distancing. The clerks were inside the booth, without glass barriers or masks to protect them. Brave souls.
Overall, there was appropriate signage for “mask-wearing” at bathrooms, and social distancing signage posted. But there wasn’t much else. While they informed guests to wear masks, there was no actual enforcement. There were also no sanitization stations to be found, which would have been ideal to have near the bathrooms and entry points.
Overcrowding at Belmar Beach
Along the boardwalk the group sizes were generally around 3-6 people. There didn’t seem to be any tension about social distancing among pedestrians as they walked along the narrow sidewalks. So this naturally drew my attention to the restaurants along the boardwalk, which effects every passerby.
At local eateries, like Playa Bowl, there were groups of people both seated and standing closely without masks. This particular venue has a small store front, so they spread out a few of their picnic benches that were on the outer sidewall 6 feet apart. However, the seating closest to the entrance were in very close proximity to the lines that formed at the door.
At La Dolce Vita, the tables were set with about 3 – 4 ft of space between each other. Also, there were no visible hand sanitization stations to be found in the outdoor area. However, they did have 6ft floor markings at the entrance, and the staff all wore face masks.
As I continued my survey and walked along the sands of the beach, I noticed a few clusters of big groups with up to 10 or so people. But every group that I found was usually spaced well over 10 feet from the next. So it seems beachgoers had taken it upon themselves to implement social distancing.
Enforcement of Protocols & Social Distancing at Belmar Beach
Along the beach, police were patrolling. Nearby they stopped a couple of guests who were drinking from beer cans in public. Otherwise, from what I saw, they didn’t bother guests about anything else. They were actually pretty polite, greeting us as a we passed by.
Overall, enforcement of masks in the bathrooms would be a plus. On the other hand, lack of police or security intervention in social distancing makes sense here. Friends and family will likely always congregate with little regard for their group size. That is their own risk to take.
On the beach I do feel capable enough to monitor my distance from unknown groups. If anyone is uncomfortably close, all it takes is 1 minute to slide a beach blanket away.
I’ve only been to D’Jais once before, and there I experienced what it must like to be at a frat party (sadly, I’ve never been to a real one). The blacked-out windows and non-stop EDM music was a true testament to Jersey Shore’s fist-pumping reputation. You could easily fall into this bottomless pit of a party and emerge as a drunken mess at the other end. It was awesome.
Health & Safety Protocols At D’Jais
When I arrived at D’Jais in the afternoon, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. With the recent viral video, I was half anticipating the same experience. But what I found was a very calm and well-organized setup.
Outside there was a line, with floor markers indicating 6 feet of distance between guests. In the main elevated dining area (which is outdoors), tables were also spaced out about 6 feet from each other. The crowded line that you saw in the video seems to be a thing of the (recent) past.
They transformed their parking lot into a second drinking and dining area. Here the guests were funneled through yet another line and ID checkpoint. This section was also relatively calm. There was no party or loud music to be found. There were also no visible hand sanitation stations.
Overcrowding at D’Jais
Things must have changed a lot since that video went viral because the crowds were nowhere near what I expected.
There were only a handful of guests dining in the front and a modest crowd in the parking lot. All guests looked to be distanced by about 6 feet in both areas. The waits on the line at the main entrance were long since they limited the guests there to around 4 people at a time. This restriction was loosened at the converted parking lot.
I came by later in the evening to see if anything changed, and it was pretty dead with only a handful of guests. Given the recent bad publicity, it definitely looks like they changed up the system and put strong caps on guest limits as they promised. Although, it doesn’t seem like it helped business at all.
Enforcement of Protocols & Social Distancing At D’Jais
It looked like the security guards’ main function was to regulate entry. The crowds were well managed and the flow of guests into the venue was definitely capped at all entry points.
From the image above you can see that once inside, guests were free to move around and small crowds developed around the second bar area in the lot. You can also see that most masks came off once inside.
Overall, it looks like a big improvement in regards to crowd control within just a week. It is obviously tough to get people to keep masks on when they are there to mingle and drink. Monitoring guests as they move around and offering sanitization are their most visible areas that could be improved.
The downer was the notable lack of energy at this venue is famous for. A little music would have been nice, as long as they enforced the social distancing. I returned later in the evening to check if it got any better, but there were only about 15 guests or so there. So it seems this change was good for safety purposes but likely killed the crowd.
Before the pandemic, I found a fun party with a lively and mature crowd at Bar Anticipation (also known as Bar A). Back then, they had a DJ playing pop music for the outdoor party and a live pop-rock performance at their indoor bar. It’s easily one of the best party bars in town.
Bar A’s main advantage, and attraction, over local bars attraction is its huge outdoor space. This space 3 tiki-styled bars and tons of seating. So it wasn’t be difficult for them to implement social distancing and still maximize attendance.
Bar A had signage prominently posted throughout the venue from the entrance to the bathrooms.
Health & Safety Protocols At Bar Anticipation
Bar A had safety protocols set to max. It is the first establishment, so far, that checked for fevers at the door. Upon entry, security guards checked my ID and my temperature with an infrared thermometer. Then they gave me a wristband that indicated to the staff, and everyone, that I am symptom free and ready to party. I finally made it.
Although conditions like the direct sunlight and how the device is held can affect its accuracy, this temperature check is a great added precautionary step. I felt a little more secure knowing that I’m less likely to be around someone who is symptomatic, even though the jury is still out on whether asymptomatic people can still spread the Coronavirus.
Overcrowding at Bar A
Bar A continued to do a great job by separating the crowd for social distancing. There were groups of many different sizes, ranging from from 3-8. And every table was spaced out by at least 6 feet. They made full use of the massive space, and clearly followed a floor plan that optimized seating.
They also kept the crowd entertained with a live singer/guitarist. This was a great idea since it helped to keep people seated and focused on the performer. It worked for everyone except a couple of hecklers who told him that he messed the words up.
Enforcement of Protocols & Social Distancing at Bar A
Bar A did a great job of handling the crowd from start to finish. A host escorted each guest directly from the entrance to a table. Where a server then promptly came to the table to handle orders. No one was allowed to approach or order directly from the bar unless they were seated at one.
Security guards were posted throughout the venue to remind guests to wear their masks as they walked through the aisles. They proactively informed and enforced compliance with safety protocols. Overall, Bar A did a fantastic job and in many ways, they went above and beyond.
Oasis Pool & Day Club
Oasis Pool & Day Club is by far one of the best parties in Belmar and possibly the biggest dance club. It has 5 main sections:
- An outdoor artificial beach with benches and a volleyball net.
- An outdoor pool area surrounded by VIP tables and grand DJ booth.
- An outdoor patio bar with dining tables
- An outdoor tiki bar surrounded by food vendors.
- An indoor nightclub
It is even bigger than Bar A and it caters to a younger crowd.
Health Protocols at Oasis Pool & Day Club
As far as health protocols went, things started off great. Like Bar A, masked security guards checked ID and temperatures right at the entrance. They also required guests to take a complimentary and obligatory shot of hand sanitizer from a spray bottle before entering. The waitresses inside were also masked.
In the picture above, you will notice there there weren’t any conspicuous signs explaining the safety protocols. There also were’nt any markers on the floors indicating 6 feet for social distancing while at the line or inside.
The tables inside were mostly around 3 feet from eachother unless you were in a cabana, which is quite a distance from surrounding tables. However, the crowded walkways full of passerbys without masks defeated the effectiveness of any spacing between tables.
Overcrowding at Oasis
While the security guard at the entrance did a great job at the doors, things quickly fell apart from there. Once I got inside the venue, the very first thing I encountered was a huge and packed crowd at the first bar. It’s kind of funny since I just got sanitized and will immediately be rubbing shoulders with guests.
After making my way through the crowd I found seating at the the next bar on the patio. There the crowd was a bit lighter in comparison, but people were shoulder to shoulder at the bar.
I found refuge at a table and ordered some food from the very helpful waitress. This helped me to maintain my social distancing. But generally, large groups of people amassed throughout the venue.
Enforcement of health protocols & social distancing at Oasis
When passing by the crowd near the entrance, I did see security guards sprinkled in the crowd. I did overhear a security guard ask people in the crowd to wear their masks. But most people ignored him, so it seems like he gave up. That was the one and only time that I saw any enforcement of health protocols happen.
In the artifical beach area, the crowd was a bit more under control. However, it seems that the social distancing there was self governed, since there were no security guards to be found there.
The waitresses that were on site were focused running around servicing tables. They didn’t have time to enforce any protocols other than providing sealed utensils.
The few security guards that were around eventually moved away from the party inside and focused on the huge line that was amassing in front. At this point the line itself got out of control with no social distancing between guests where it became another point of failure.
Overall, Oasis had a great party. The music was great, the drinks were strong, and the crowd was lively. But it was definitely overcrowded. If even one person there had COVID-19, then we all got it. I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t scared of contracting the “Rona” every time someone brushed up against me. I don’t see any social distancing happening here until they have more staff enforcing it beyond the door.
On the other hand, Bar Anticipation got everything right. It set the standard for what businesses should do to be compliant with health guidance and social distancing requirements. Their preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19 were visible and clearly communicated throughout my visit. The entire staff executed their parts perfectly.
Across the board, I did see some potential problem areas that should be worked on:
- Servers removed masks when speaking to guests
- Servers came into direct contact with guests as they shuffle through crowds
- Servers didn’t have time to sanitize in between orders
It’s clear that the servers are the most at-risk employees. They can easily become carriers transmitting infection from table to table and throughout crowded areas.
In general, it will take more time to activate the many precautions and train the staff. Educating guests and obtaining compliance takes both finesse and consistency. While signage is helpful, the staff has to follow through as well. And things like digital menus and contactless checkout need time to implement.
These local businesses have been shut down for months. Now they need to make the most of the remainder of their busy season. And if they don’t ramp up revenue quickly, many won’t be around next year.
As customers, we also have to take some responsibility. We all wear masks to work and shop. We observe our 6 feet of social distance everywhere we go. So why would we behave any less cautiously at a party?
We are still in a pandemic, and no cure has been announced. So it’s surprising to see so many people without masks move so nonchalantly among crowds. It’s like all of the months that we lost to this pandemic were forgotten, and everyone just wants to party, be carefree, and live it up. I admit that I am among them.
We all have roles to play in reopening and recovery. The changes in safety measures aren’t going away anytime soon, and life may never go back to the way it was. So if what I saw at the Jersey Shore is happening across the country, then I see hope and a work in progress. But I also see that a resurgence of the Coronavirus may be unavoidable.
Are you going to Jersey Shore? If so, please share this post if it was helpful! Drop a comment with your thoughts!
See more videos about my experience on Instagram. Feel free to tag and follow me @nezalpha
Thanks for reading!