Meadowlands Racetrack Outdoor Dining Idea Foiled

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It seemed like a modest proposal: The Meadowlands Racetrack, which reopened for racing last weekend, would offer outdoor dining on its West Deck on Friday and/or Saturday as long as 100 people RSVP’d for either night.

But by Wednesday, the effort was aborted when it was clear that the response would come up short of what would have made the undertaking as much as a break-even proposition.

The plan went like this:

  • A credit card and phone number would be taken to guarantee the reservation. Walk ups would not be permitted. Credit card payments only, no cash accepted.
  • An American BBQ theme was on the menu, including hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, and sliced steak along with salads and dessert. Items were to be cooked to order on the grill, and served by mask-wearing waitresses.
  • The price was to be $29.95, plus tax and gratuity. That included soft drinks, with a service bar offering beer, wine, and mixed drinks served in to-go containers.

Why the lack of enthusiasm?

The weekend still shapes up as a unique one, with 18 races on both nights — and a 6 p.m. post time — with the five extra races mainly accounting for the fact that neighboring Pennsylvania has been slower to get back in racing form.

So what scared off the racing public from being able to sit down on a nice June night and enjoy watching races in person again?

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A simple answer is that the Meadowlands Racetrack is in Bergen County, which has been rocked by nearly 1,700 COVID-19 pandemic-related deaths. More than 140 have died in the host community of East Rutherford, which has fewer than 10,000 residents.

But professional gambler “Captain Jack Andrews” noted on Twitter, “The no wagering part was the dealbreaker.”

One of Andrews’ followers quipped, “exactly…the track isn’t a petting zoo.”

Both Meadowlands track operator Jeff Gural and Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin have sought to get state approval for their outdoor dining patrons to be able to place wagers at outdoor kiosks.

Earlier this week, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that outdoor dining was permitted — but not indoor, which is considered to be more dangerous given closer confines and a lack of ideal ventilation in most cases.

There will be an alternative for owners on Saturday:

“Breakfast With The Babies” will go as scheduled on Saturday morning, with a first post of 8:30 a.m. The New Jersey Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association is providing bagels, muffins, and refreshments for those who wish to watch freshman pacers and trotters get their early lessons. Programs will be provided as well.

The East Deck will be open to owners at 8:00 am, with all tables properly social distanced. Owners will have access to hand sanitizer and restrooms. Reservations are required, however, and owners will have their temperature taken at the entrance.

Masks are mandatory except when seated. No outside food and beverage is permitted.

Dining at Monmouth Park

Monmouth Park, which has a Blu Grotto Italian steakhouse and an outdoor beer garden, began taking reservations on Wednesday. There will be dinner seating Wednesday through Sunday. Curbside pickup is now also available.

Thoroughbred racing is scheduled to resume at Monmouth Park on July 3.

In other Monmouth Park news, track officials announced Thursday that it will offer a $1 million bonus to any horse that sweeps the Haskell Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Haskell will be contested for the 53rd time on July 18, the Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled to Sept. 5, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be held on Nov. 7.

Freehold Raceway’s resumption of standardbred racing is slated for Aug. 28, with weekend racing through the end of 2020.

In Atlantic City, meanwhile, no casino action no longer means no outdoor food and drink service as well. The Landshark Bar and Grill on the Resorts Casino beach opened on Monday, while Golden Nugget’s outdoor deck will feature similar offerings starting on Friday.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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