Fine Dine to Funky: Restaurants Are Serving Social Distancing With A Side Of Wack

Mannequins, noodle hats and robots – tech and innovation is the new normal for eateries and bars around the world.

Suman Mahfuz Quazi

It’s hard to imagine a restaurant without its characteristic euphony – the rustling of waist aprons as waiters glide by, the familiar tinkling of forks and spoons against chinaware and diners murmuring. This happy, controlled chaos forms the quintessence of a restaurant, which has been marred by the spread of the novel Coronavirus and it has been worrisome to think what social distancing is going to do to it. 

And yet, as restaurants across the world gear up to re-open, it seems like a few have found some of the answers to these questions, albeit in quirky, oddball and sometimes, downright bizarre solutions! Robots replacing wait-staff in Washington, cafés dolling out noodle hats or fine-dines creating magnificent glass cabins to protect and entertain their guests, all at once; take a look at some of the zaniest practices being adopted by different restaurants internationally:

Robots versus humans 

Bars and restaurants in The Netherlands were allowed to re-open with a maximum capacity of 30 people starting on June 1, 2020. Of them, a fusion restaurant-chain, Dadawan’s outlet in Maastricht did so, but first, replaced their concierge with a robot called Jaime . Jaime checks guests for temperatures and seats them if everything checks out. And while orders are taken by humans, the food is brought, and dishes are cleared by two other similar robots, named Amy and Aker!

Dolled up for dinner

Mannequins and blow-up dolls seems to be gaining currency among restaurateurs in the new normal. In Washington, chef Patrick O’Connell’s three-Michelin-star restaurant, The Inn At Little Washington – already known to be irreverent – has dressed up mannequins in 1940s clothing instead of cutting down on tables, to make it appear full. 

Similarly, in South Carolina, Paula Melehes’ Open Hearth Restaurant will have kitschy blow-up dolls (ordered on Amazon!) seated at every other table. This trend is not only prevalent in the US, but has also picked up steam in Europe, with cafes, like Cafe Central in Vienna, Austria and restaurants, such as, Hotel Haase in Laatzen, Germany, using life-size dolls to enforce social distancing norms among diners. 

A thinking hat

A few restaurants, cafés and diners have literally put their thinking caps (or hats?) on to be able to tide through the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, places like, Cafe Rothe and Burger King in Germany are now resorting to hats to playfully remind their patrons to maintain safe distance. The café put together these colourful hats made out of pool noodles, whereas, Burger King modelled large hats based on their logo, which resembles an over-sized Mexican sombrero from a distance, and started distributing them among customers. 

Finding shade

You can always trust France to crank things up a notch when it comes to dining. Designer Christophe Gernigon designed plastic lampshades or Plex'Eat to protect individuals from infecting each other while dining. It first propped up at a restaurant in Paris, H.A.N.D and since, Gernigon has received orders and requests from another 200 or so establishments. Folks are just calling it eating pods, now. 

Cutout for the new normal

Cardboard cutouts seems to be a more economic choice than mannequins or blow up dolls. Either because of that (or, we’re not sure exactly why) but two restaurants – one in Thailand and the other, in Australia – decided to fill up empty seats with cardboard cutouts. While the one in Thailand, resorted to mossy green cartoon dragons, at owner Frank Angeletta’s Five Dock Dining in Sydney, Australia, you can find cutouts of celebs and regular people. We cannot attest it will hold up to scientific scrutiny, but it sure does help find comedy in this tragedy. 

Please be seated, alone 

At restaurateur Linda Karlsson’s Bord för En, the table is seated for a single diner, each day. Set in the middle of a field in Sweden, which didn’t go into a lockdown. Bord för En’s single-seater arrangement is not only befitting to its name (Bord för En means Table for One), but also in line with social distancing norms. The food at Karlsson’s open-air diner, is served in a basket through a rope pulley system. If that’s magical or crazy, we leave for you to decide. 

Kung food panda

In Thailand, a Vietnamese restaurant called Maison Saigon is using stuffed panda-toys to subtly (or not) cue diners to their seats. On being quizzed upon the bizarre choice, owner Sawit Chaiphuek said that these dolls help him feel less lonely when dining alone. Odd? Yes, but compared to rusty mannequins and morbid blow-up dolls, these pandas are cute. 

Break bread within barriers

The glass barrier – slowly becoming ubiquitous – seems to be the most logical choice for restaurateurs. Penguin Eat Shabu in Thailand has built plastic barriers atop all its dining tables to protect diners. Meanwhile, in Japan, restaurants have built glass barriers to provide a safer dining experience to their guests. 

However, it is Amsterdam’s Mediamatic Eten that has really taken things to the next level, by building serres séparées or separated greenhouses, which are glass cabins that allow guests to safely enjoy a
meal. Not only are these cubicles ingenuous, but they also help add a touch of magnificence to the experience. 

Apart from strange hats, mannequins and pandas, restaurants have also experimented with out-of-the-box ideas, such as serving food through a handmade chute, which is being used at a Café Kiel in Germany. Here, the barista prepares the order and lowers it to the customer through the chute. Or, ‘bumper tables,’ which has been employed by Fish Tales in Ocean City, Maryland. These large wheels are in-built with an inner tube for patrons to use as a table, and the idea is to recreate the experience of bumper cars in an amusement park while enjoying a few tipples. Additionally, restaurants have also put in place safety norms, such as mandatory use of glass shields by their waitstaff, temperature checks, rigorous sanitisation methods, reduced tables and usage of disposable crockery and cutlery, all of which makes the international dining scene sound a bit dystopian, but hella tasty!

Banner Image: The Inn at Little Washington
Images: Cafe Rothe, Bord for En, Mediamatic Eten, Dadawan, Penguin Eat Shabu and 
Christophe Gernigon


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