Downtown Mall restaurants grappling with loosened restrictions under Phase One rules

Restaurants on Charlottesville's downtown mall grapple with loosened restrictions under Phase One Plan

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - With restaurants preparing to open under new restrictions Friday, May 15, language in Virginia’s Phase One Plan will not only limit businesses, but it may also cause some owners not to open at all.

Under the upcoming phase, customers can be seated outside of restaurants, but social-distancing measures still need to be in effect between tables and anyone who might be walking by.

Bashir Khelafa and his wife have operated Bashir’s Taverna on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall for 23 years. Khelafa says they have seen illnesses sweep the nation before, but the coronavirus pandemic is different, and he is changing his business inside and out.

"We’ll have tables with safe distance in between. We’re still debating two options: One will be a self-service with disposable items,” Khelafa explained. “And the second one would be [at-the] table service, mask, everything, and using also disposables. I know people who are very aware of the harm to the environment and others like this, but safety comes first.”

While customers will be able to use the outdoor areas of restaurants, breweries, and food trucks, the new guidelines in Phase One put in place the following restrictions: Businesses can not exceed 50% capacity for outdoor seating, staff must use face masks and gloves, tables need to be at least six feet apart from each other and anyone on a public sidewalks, and must use disposable menus.

Under the new rules, even that self-services is not allowed though, except for beverages. Khelafa says although restrictions are being lifted slightly, he does not plan on having many customers seated on the patio in front of his taverna.

“We’re not going to go crazy, there’s going to be a lot of space in between,” Khelafa said. “I’d rather have a few customers and low risk than trying to be stupid and thinking about the money and end up on a ventilator or my customer.”

In addition to following the rules set down by Governor Ralph Northam, Khelafa says he expects many of his customers to practice as many ways to “flatten the curve” as possible.

"Anybody who is a bully, like I had one last week just tries to go no mask, nothing, ‘Excuse me brother, try another place,'” Khelafa said.

Some other restaurants on the Downtown Mall said they either had not had a chance to read the restrictions or that they plan to remain closed to dine-in options. For a full list of restaurants open during the pandemic, click here.

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