Harrisonburg restaurants adapt to new procedures during Phase 1

Patio seating at Jalapeño in Harrisonburg.

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Some restaurants were able to reopen dining at their locations on May 15 as Phase 1 of Virginia's reopening plan began.

Under Phase 1, restaurants can continue to serve customers through pickup and delivery, and can also serve guests in-person, through outdoor dining only, at 50 percent capacity. You can find the full requirements and guidelines of Phase 1, for all affected industries, here.

Sharon Wheelbarger, the owner of Jalapeño in Harrisonburg, said the changes have been difficult, but their staff is adjusting to their new procedures, like increased cleaning, wearing PPE, and using disposable utensils and menus.

Wheelbarger says they've received amazing support over the last week from customers as some people are excited to get back out.

"That's been a general feeling, is that people want to get out, so the opening is essential for us," Wheelbarger said. "Carry-out has been great, but we have to open."

She said she thinks Jalapeño customers have been comfortable with their reopening.

"We have offered masks, gloves, hand sanitizer to our customers, and nobody has taken it," Wheelbarger said. "They all seem very relaxed and trust us that we're doing what we need to do."

And after weeks only serving customers through take-out and delivery, she said she is happy to be back.

"I knew I loved what I did, but it wasn't until I couldn't do it that I realized how much I loved what I do," Wheelbarger said.

She said she is grateful they could reopen some of their patio seating, but she hopes Phase 2 will allow them to seat customers inside at a distance, as well.

Wheelbarger said having outdoor seating available helps them when the weather is nice, but bad weather closes down the entire patio.

"Phase 1 worked out okay, but then again with the weather, that put us right back to square one, and even worse," Wheelbarger said. "We had even worse sales this week during the rain."

Wheelbarger said customers have been patient and understanding of their limited space and new procedures.

She said they ask for people to wait in the parking lot or in their cars for a table to open up, but won't allow customers inside unless it is to grab a carry-out order or to use the restroom.

As of May 22, the city of Harrisonburg had among the highest cases of COVID-19 per capita in Virginia, with 704 total cases. City officials have said that's largely due to the area obtaining a lot more testing than other similar areas, which the statistics represent as well — more testing has been conducted in the Central Shenandoah Health District than in Richmond, giving a more comprehensive perspective of the situation.