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How social distancing is changing restaurant design

How social distancing is changing restaurant design

Screens are being incorporated into eating spaces

Per Se is one of Tihany's design screen concepts
Per Se is one of Tihany's design screen concepts
Novikov screen by Tihany Design offers a different look
Novikov screen by Tihany Design offers a different look
Social distancing measures in a Bangkok restaurant
Social distancing measures in a Bangkok restaurant

Restaurants may never look the same again. As designers navigate a landscape changed forever by a worldwide pandemic, we look at how social distancing translates into restaurant design.

One lasting design legacy of COVID-19 will be a rise in escapist restaurant interiors, predicts a white paper by ROAR's Pallavi Dean.

The design studio's trend report worked with 170 industry professionals and a focus group of nine experts to map the landscape of restaurant design after the height of the pandemic.

Intended to help restaurant designers (and owners picking up the tab for fit-out) spot the difference between a short-term fad and a long-term trend, the white paper includes predictions that the pandemic will accelerate many restaurant design trends that were already in motion.

These include increased automation through robots and apps; demand for greater originality and escapism in design concepts, the decline of buffets and sharing concepts and pressure on landlords to ease rents.

Although some considerations are purely aesthetic - a desire for "slightly surreal" and escapist design is predicted - a mandated need for social distancing protocols means the appearance of dining out has to look different.

Firas Alsahin, design director and co-founder at 4Space, says his firm has been exploring adaptable and portable designs that enable organically safe spaces for restaurant interiors, giving them additional and transformable spaces that can adapt to social distancing.

He says: "Let's face it: we really do not know how this crisis will play out, and therefore the implications to restaurant design remain just as uncertain.

"As such, the impact on restaurant design will remain a moving target for the foreseeable future.

"To successfully navigate such a future, designers will need to take a transformational approach, one that embraces the spirit of continuous improvement and evolution, as the market evolves into the new normal.

Pre-Covid, it was recommended that restaurants give each seated diner a 1.4 square metres of space. During the pandemic however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended this to be increased to 2.5 square metres per diner.

"We've seen designs done in the wrong way like big plexiglass boxes blocking people in, this can cause fear and claustrophobia.

"Dining out should be a great customer experience and diners should organically feel safe amidst the pandemic. We should provide a safe flow in the space without people feeling suffocated.

"Hospitality is about emotions, cultures, and scenes of happiness.

"In the Italian restaurant that we are working on, we utilise designs and materials that can be adapted to provide different layout planning space by using arched colored glass partitions that you can move and slide to create different spaces in between. We used materials that withstand constant sanitisation like glass and steel, and abrasion resistant surfaces.

"The ability to forget is in human nature and getting back to normality is a matter of time, so concurrently we want to create a lovely space, which is safe and that will last for years. The last thing we want is an over-conscious costly design that causes fear or anxiety.

"Indeed, the pandemic will, in fact, come to an end one day. As the world evolves to this end, restaurants will also have to evolve and continually improve and remain relevant. We believe that it is key to have a 'transformational' philosophy and 'continuous improvement' and evolving approach and mentality, as we begin the journey out of the current pandemic situation.

"There’s already a lot of stress in the air. Let's design relaxed and enjoyable spaces yet be safe and sustainable."

Elsewhere in the world, creative options are being encouraged to create social distancing without obliterating the design DNA of the cities' restaurant scenes.

US interiors specialist Tihany Design  has created design concepts for attractive screens to ensure safe social distancing.

The screens are lightweight, easily moveable and storable, simple to clean and maintain and can be tailored to the restaurant to match the existing interiors.

The atelier, which worked on restaurants for the launch of Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, admits it intends them to be a short-term solution, though one that still needs to be in keeping with the interiors in which they sit.

“Our primary goal in designing the custom screens was to encourage and support our clients with their immediate needs for reopening," says Alessia Genova, managing partner at Tihany Design.

"In reality, we hope that these needs will be short-lived and the screens can soon serve a different function within the restaurant, unrelated to social distancing. All of these temporary fixes will change the way we experience these spaces, but it will not be forever. For now, we continue to support each other through this new territory."

In Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, the Mediamatic ETEN, is offering a four-course vegetarian menu for diners, all served to guests while they sit in their own personal quarantine greenhouses outside.

Celebrity chef David Chang asked his Twitter followers to share images of restaurants in eateries in Taipei, Hong Kong, South Korea, and China with new precautions in place, in the hope that the safety measures there might help establish a protocol in the US.

Retro-fitted panels seem to be the new norm, which are being removed as government guidelines change to meet a fast-moving international situation.

Alsahin says that aligns with requests from F&B clients to install temporary social distancing measures.

"We are working on multiple F&B projects that not necessarily require social distancing but indeed mind the pandemic in many aspects.

"The Italian restaurant we're working on in Abu Dhabi is located in Souq Aljami, the mall which is near to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

"This restaurant required social distancing design measures but with a plan to revert back to normality.

"So, we utilised a design that can be adaptable to provide different layout planning space by using arched colored glass partitions which you can move and slide to create different safe spaces in between and in the same time provides the option to be back to normal.

'We are having conversations with our clients for a long-term solution and how we dine out until the crisis abates.

"One such solution are wireless chargers that are incorporated in the tables, to stay away from the old sharable power banks.

"We have been asked to value the outdoor space more and better by utilising space outside restaurants during this period of social distancing.

"We had inquiries that embrace previous trends like open kitchen to have the transparency on how the food is being prepared and assure the customers on the restaurant measures of social distancing so the aim changed, as before the target was to have more like a theatrical act in the open kitchen.

"Also, there is a demand for private dining rooms, more than one in a restaurant. I believe we will see more of this trend in the coming days, where a business or family can enjoy a safe private dining experience.

"Innovations in technology are being requested like, contactless order screens using hand gestures.

"What we learned working in the time of COVID-19 is to be adaptable, so that should reflect in our designs: Remove fear and be able to revert back to normal.

"Building a restaurant is a big investment, we need to be sure that what our design is a long-term solution with cost-effective interventions.

"Most important is to design an organically safe experience without people noticing while ticking all the boxes.

Stats from ROAR's white paper

26%
Of industry professionals think there will be a return to 'normal' restaurant spacing before the end of 2020

43%
Of those surveyed believe that contactless dining is a passing fad and physical menus and handshakes, will return

78%
Of people said buffets and sharing concepts wouldn't survive. Indeed the regulations for buffets have now changed

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