Mask On Doors Open: Your Table is Ready

One question on the minds of all retailers and restaurateurs: How do we create an environment to allow for business to flow as usual, while making a safe space that customers feel comfortable in? With social distancing becoming the norm for the foreseeable future, restaurants are forced to change their philosophy from maximizing occupancy to maximizing distance. How does the hospitality industry continue to create a friendly and welcoming environment? Design is integral to the answer.

Fieldings Local – Houston, TX

Almost a decade ago, the restaurant industry saw a change in seating norms with the re-introduction of communal seating. Restaurants everywhere introduced this idea to maximize seating and push social boundaries. Now with new concerns regarding the pandemic, we will see another drastic change in seating layouts. With consumers no longer feeling comfortable around strangers, shared seating will most likely come to an end. Restaurateurs will be challenged with creating safe zones of seating throughout the space for consumer comfort.

Topgolf – Glendale, AZ

Previously, the use of multiple seating typologies was an easy way to create separate zones, but with limited space and seating types, we have to be a bit more inventive. With the lack of communal tables, the majority of seating will be heavily focused on two to four-top tables. There are only so many ways to arrange these tables before your space begins to feel like an open sea of tables. One way we can begin to differentiate zones within seating areas is through the manipulation of table heights. Bar height tables in conjunction with dining height tables can create an extra layer of separation from those seated around you, while simultaneously creating a visual change within the topography of the space.

For larger parties or families wanting to dine together (while staying safe, of course), the use of booth seating will be pivotal in offering a more private dining experience. Private dining rooms or roped off rentable areas can also be introduced and are a great way to maintain distance while dining out for special occasions. Generous spacing between banquette tables also allows for flexibility in seating with both smaller and larger groups. Being able to manually shift tables to increase or decrease spacing for customers’ comfort will be a quick way to ensure happy consumers. While rearranging seating within indoor space may be quite limited, restaurants can also turn to the use of outdoor space to add exterior dining options. Outdoor seating is a great asset to any dining space, as many consumers will feel a lot safer in the open air with more room to spread out.

Che Figata – Naperville, IL

In addition to changing seating typologies, the use of temporary or permanent screens between fixed seating or seating zones will help many restaurants continue social distancing when there is limited useable dining space. These screens can create a noticeably unique and intimate dining experience for the consumers, and many are pre-fabricated and very easy to install. Screens can be made of a variety of different materials, including translucent, clear, or frosted glass. Adding these screens to the edges of individual tabletops, above booths, or using free-standing dividers between loose seating zones are only a few solutions to the limitless situations where these screens can be utilized. Need a quick solution for a barrier check out Lumicor or 3-Form.

One Fifty One Kitchen + Bar –  Elmhurst, IL

Temporary or permanent screen barriers may not be the most aesthetically pleasing to everyone, but there are many options for creating a more agreeable solution. Adding plants around the perimeter can add some liveliness, or introducing drapes in front of these screens can help soften the appearance of these visible additions. Inserting branding or textured patterns to the translucent panes is another way to create visual interest while integrating the screens within the initial design intent. The creative possibilities for incorporating these temporary or permanent solutions into our design are endless.

Along with changes in seating, the need for social distancing procedures while queuing will also be needed. Markers on the floor or walls showing where to stand as you wait will become vital in maintaining safe distances between people. Introducing additional signage and designated waiting booths, will also be imperative for crowd control with the new social distancing guidelines. These measures will aid customers in feeling safe and encourage them to keep their distance at all times. Appointing separate areas for pick-up, and even different doors for carryout are also ways to alleviate the normal crossing of paths for patrons. The design of these specific wayfinding and graphic markers could be integrated into the overall restaurant design and branding creating a cohesive atmosphere.

In these unprecedented times with the re-opening of public spaces upon us, the challenge of adapting to this new “normal” is here. While we shared several possible resolutions to these unique dilemmas, this is only the starting point as we continue to find more inventive solutions to provide the safest environments for our clients.