New dining formats

The dining experience is going to be anything but normal as restaurants fire up their kitchen stoves and swing open the doors once again. You can expect temperature checks at the door, masked servers, and half-empty venues.

Chef Dave Chang, based in the United States, tweeted on April 16: “Can diners from Taipei or Hong Kong send me pictures of how it looks in restaurants?” The replies poured in with photos of restaurants that had plastic sheets, tape, and cardboard dividers between diners. These solutions were not the most appealing, but they worked.

The outlook for American restaurants is grim. Experts predict that 75% of American independent restaurants “won’t survive,” and the National Restaurant Association estimates the industry will lose $225 Billion in the next three months due to the pandemic. States slowly allow restaurants to reopen under strict regulations. However, many owners are deciding to wait to reopen because they are not offering food delivery or modifying their business model to sell groceries or food boxes.

The dining experience will never be the same. By strictly adhering to safety regulations, many restaurants have regained the trust of their customers. Some restaurants are taking it a step further by installing a design that creates a memorable and unique dining experience.

In China, a government app indicates the health status of a person by using a color-code system: green, yellow, or red. Restaurants and cafes increasingly ask customers to display their color codes. Originally, this was a tool for travelers.

In April, Yardbird Hong Kong reopened using plexiglass partitions between booths. Parties were limited to four people maximum, and surfaces were sanitized every 30 minutes. Lindsay Jang is the co-founder of Yardbird Hong Kong. She notes that “energy” has changed in the restaurant, but she thinks people are appreciating the boundaries set up to make them feel safe.

Kay’s Boutique Cafe in Bangkok, Thailand, opened on May 3, 2020, with a new set of rules, including a 2-meter law for table distance, temperature checks, thorough sanitization, partitions that separate diners, masks and face shields worn by employees, and contactless payments. Their iconic flower tunnel will remain open, but the number of guests is limited to three.

The dining experiences for large groups have also been rethought. The Penguin Eat Shabu restaurant in Bangkok has installed plastic dividers using white PVC pipe and only allows two people to share each hotpot.

Amsterdam’s restaurant has changed its dining setup to make it more intimate, safe, and atmospheric. Mediamatic ETEN installed Serres Separees along the waterfront to solve the problem of distanced dining. Bookings released for the week of May 21 and for June are all fully booked.

The pods were originally designed to be a test. They are now being implemented. Mediamatic’s website says: “In this time, we are reinspired to redesign togetherness and contamination precautions.” Our greenhouses offer you an intimate dining experience while protecting you from the elements and other people.

Denmark is soon to announce the second round of openings, which may include cafes and restaurants in mid-May. Some restaurants, however, are taking their time to rethink the business and not rush into space immediately.

Noma announced that they would delay the opening of their restaurant until the latest June 2. Rene Redzepi, co-owner and chef of Noma, told Vanity Fair that the restaurant will rethink what customers will want when dining out. Redzepi says that “no one dreams of spending five hours eating a ten-course meal.” “We dream of going out with friends and ordering two bottles champagne and a large platter of shellfish.”

Eleven Madison Park in New York City told Bloomberg Pursuits recently that it is uncertain if the restaurant will ever reopen. Daniel Humm, chef and owner of Eleven Madison Park (EMP), says that reopening will cost millions, and he is worried about the loss of original creativity. Humm also considers the purpose of his work. Humm is currently feeding 3,000 meals per day to people experiencing homelessness and the hungry. He says that he would continue to do this if the EMP kitchen reopened.

Restaurants and cafes also use this time to reevaluate business plans as consumers reconsider their priorities after a lockdown. In an article published by The Guardian in April titled “Restaurants won’t be the same after the coronavirus – but that could be a good idea,” author Jonathan Nunn describes the flaws of the industry, from the struggle to break even due to excessive rental to the unethical use of cheap labor. Nunn says, “To move forward, we need to start by examining the things we want to save from the industry. We should give space to the things that nourish us, our communities and throw out the things we don’t think deserve to live.”

The lockdown has allowed restaurants to reflect. The situation with restaurants closing is dire. However, those who are able to survive and thrive will bring a new approach to dining and add value and purpose to the community.

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