7 ways restaurants are encouraging social distancing

Restaurants across the globe are beginning to reopen, but since coronavirus cases are still being confirmed daily, many eateries are using unique concepts to encourage social distancing among customers and employees.

When it comes to dining out, the new normal may involve some pretty far-out methods. Here are seven ways clever restaurateurs are planning to keep guests safe and smiling as they open for business.

The Inn at Little Washington

This world-renowned Michelin-starred restaurant located in Washington, Virginia, is filling empty seats in its grand dining room with well-attired mannequins when it reopens at 50% capacity. And while some social media commenters have found the idea a little, well, creepy, most people were intrigued by the theatrics of The Inn at Little Washington.

Guests will find servers attending to the mannequins (dressed in 1940s garb) and filling their wine glasses when the restaurant reopens for indoor service on May 29.

Maison Saigon

At Maison Saigon in Bangkok, Thailand, staff members have found a unique way to welcome customers while preventing the spread of coronavirus. The Vietnamese eatery, which recently reopened for business, has seated stuffed pandas in empty chairs to keep restaurant-goers from feeling lonely.

“Maison Saigon is now open for eating!!” reads the caption that accompanied a picture of some pandas waiting patiently for their food on Instagram. “Come alone, as a couple or as a whole family. We have pandas and clear panels to help keep the distance for you to be happy and healthy and enjoy authentic Vietnamese taste safely, without worries. With strict cleanliness measures in accordance with state standards we’re offering a special during May, a 20% discount for food in the shop.”

Hope there’s plenty of bamboo on the menu!

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The Open Hearth

This mainstay of Greenville, South Carolina, found a unique solution for filling empty tables when it reopened for dine-in service on May 12. Co-owner Paula Starr Melehes decided to fill chairs with blow-up dolls.

The Open Hearth posted pictures on Facebook of its loyal customers posing with the plastic dinner companions. All appeared happy and in good spirits to be dining out in public again.

Honey Salt

Courtesy of Honey Salt Las Vegas

This farm-to-table eatery in Las Vegas reopened for dine-in service on Friday, but there were some cuddly customers hanging out at the bar. While restaurant dining rooms in the state have been permitted to reopen, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all bar areas in restaurants to remain closed for the time being. The staff of Honey Salt donated teddy bears and other furry friends to fill seats at the typically busy bar to make the dining room feel more cozy.

“Everyone loves them,” Honey Salt owner Elizabeth Blau told TODAY Food. “Everyone needs a little extra reassurance and kindness. Instead of cold, empty bar stools and a big empty hole in the dining room, the bears and other friends make people smile and give hope that everything will be OK soon.

“It’s OK to have a little fun, and the masks and the sign saying,‘Don’t disturb the bears in quarantine,’ reaffirm the situation is still serious.”

Five Dock Dining

Five Dock Dining in Sydney, Australia, reopened for dine-in service Friday and found a quirky way to give the normally buzzy restaurant some life while operating at a very limited capacity.

“When our New South Wales government gave us the green light to reopen with a limit of 10 customers, I began thinking how I could recreate the buzz and ambiance I and my customers were used to,” co-owner Frank Angilletta told TODAY. “So, through the use of cardboard cutouts and background sounds of a busy restaurant the idea was created. What began as a funny little experiment has turned into our diners saying that it actually feels like a normal busy restaurant.”

“In light of everything happening, like all other small businesses we are still trying to serve our customers as best we can,” read the captions accompanying photos of the cardboard customers on Instagram. “We are so grateful for the recognition we’ve received over the past week [emoji] Although most of our patrons right now are 2D [emoji] we are so thankful to those who have dined in and are planning to do so. We’re committed to keeping our customers safe and look forward to seeing you soon!”

Fish Tales

This bar and eatery in Ocean City, Maryland, worked with Revolution Event Design and Production in Baltimore to create “bumper bar” tables that encourage social distancing. The tables, which are basically giant inner tubes on wheels, allow guests to stay in their own individual social distancing circles while enjoying a tasty beverage several feet apart from oth
er patrons.


Customers wait outside on social distancing markings at a prototype location of fast food giant McDonald’s in Arnhem, Netherlands. Piroschka Van De Wouw / Reuters

Even McDonald’s has tried out new distinctive social distancing measures. In Arnhem, Netherlands, customers waited outside to enter the restaurant on giant circle markers, spaced six feet apart. Other creative practices include offering table service (so customers won’t constantly be walking around restaurants), with food wheeled over to customers on trolleys and signs reminding diners to “smile at a safe distance.”