Restaurants are reopening around the world, but it’s far from business as usual. Instead of focusing on the night’s dinner specials, social distancing and strict sanitation protocols top the to-do list. But as serious as these restrictions are, operators are coming up with creative and fun solutions for enforcing them. Here are some funky ways restaurants are following the rules.
Cultivating social distancing
Vegan restaurant ETEN at Amsterdam’s Mediamatic arts center erected mini greenhouses over its outdoor tables to seat customers at a safe distance. Couples can book the tables and dine in a self-contained structure that feels like a logical extension of ETEN’s plant-based menu. To heighten the experience, the waterside greenhouses are candlelit at night.
There’s a mannequin sitting next to me
Inn at Little Washington, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Washington, Va., is reopening its dining room at 50% capacity this week. But instead of leaving half the seats empty, chef-owner Patrick O’Connell is filling them with human-sized mannequins dressed in 1940s-style fashions. The servers will even be pouring wine for the inanimate guests.
Five Dock Dining, a restaurant in Sydney, Australia, is going a slightly less realistic but inventive route by seating life-size cardboard cutouts at its widely spaced tables.
From swimming pool to cafe table
Those long foam noodles that kids play with in the swimming pool were the inspiration for social distancing at Cafe Rothe in Schwerin, Germany. The proprietors hand out hats affixed with the noodles as a whimsical way to keep guests from getting too close to one another.
Shower curtains double as dividers
For restaurants to reopen in Ohio, diners must either be 6 feet apart or separated by physical barriers. Plexiglass dividers have been a popular solution for operators, but Kim Shapiro, owner of Twisted Citrus in North Canton, Ohio, came up with an idea she might have hatched while taking a shower. She is hanging clear plastic shower curtains around the booths; the curtains are easily cleaned between table turns.
When Starbucks locations opened in Chicago in May, customers had to order ahead and wait for a barista to hand it over outside the store. To make sure coffee drinkers waited 6 feet apart, the staff drew stars on the sidewalk with colored chalk, distancing them at the correct intervals. At some cafes, the employees had fun writing welcoming words and whimsical messages into the star pattern.
Ordering through the window—with a twist
At Sushishop, a fast casual in Sweden, customers usually line up inside and place their orders. Now the restaurant has installed a touchscreen behind its window with technology that allows customers to place an order through the glass. When ready, the guest is notified by text, and it’s available for curbside pickup. The staff cleans the window regularly, and there’s hand sanitizer attached to the glass in a suction cup holder for customers to use after ordering.
Lightening up the signage
Like other limited-service restaurants, Pie Five had to find a way to keep customers from sitting right next to one another after they got their food. Instead of cordoning off tables, the chain placed “reserved” signs on alternating tables that read “No VIPs. It’s a social distancing thing.”
Take it to the cleaners
The schtick at Orlando’s Icebar is that customers don warm jackets when they enter and keep them on while they sip cocktails or dine. In the past, the coats rotated throughout the night, but now they have to be cleaned after each use. An ultraviolet light closet is the solution. An employee places the jacket in the closet, and the UV rays disinfect and sterilize it. As an extra safety precaution, the jacket is then sprayed with disinfectant.