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June 4, 2020

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Restaurants get creative to lure back diners

Dining at a table where each person is enclosed by a clear plastic shield might sound futuristic and look odd, but it could be a way for many restaurants to reopen. It also might help if your companion orders escargots, heavy on the garlic.

The prototype plastic shields are known as the “Plex’eat,” and resemble big clear lampshades suspended from a ceiling. H.A.N.D., a Parisian restaurant seeking a way to reopen its dining room as coronavirus restrictions are relaxed, is temporarily showcasing them.

As restaurateurs around the world seek to resume in-person dining during the pandemic, they want to adhere to social distancing rules while also trying to serve as many customers as health and safety measures allow.

Some are putting mannequins at every other table to provide space between actual customers, like at Augustas and Barbora, a restaurant in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Some of its faux diners are dressed casually, while others look as though they’re at a ball. The clothes they wear showcase the work of local fashion designers.

“We want to fill the space with fun things,” said owner Patrikas Ribas.

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius called the initiative a “perfect match of communal spirit and creativity working side by side.”

In Hofheim, Germany, the Beef’n Beer uses large teddy bears seated at certain tables to keep diners properly spaced apart, cultivating a cozy, less-sterile atmosphere.

Owners of Amsterdam’s Mediamatic restaurant have erected small glass houses that surround each table served by waiters in protective shields.

In order to generate some amount of income, many restaurants have provided take-out and delivery during the pandemic. However, such practices are less common in France (although Michelin-starred chefs such as Alain Ducasse recently began offering take-out service).

Owners are seeking solutions that will coax back customers while also easing their anxiety about catching the virus.

Mathieu Manzoni, the director of H.A.N.D, thinks the plastic shields are a “pretty, more poetic” solution for restaurateurs who fear that social distancing could cut their capacity by half or more.

“There is a bit of a panic,” he said.

Makers of the Plex’eat say they have received more than 200 preorders from countries around the world, including the United States and Japan (in addition to France).

Designer Christophe Gernigon got the idea after visiting a store in Bangkok “that has three individual domes with chairs where people sit and listen to music.”

He merged the idea with large face shields that have proliferated since the pandemic broke out, though there is no filtration system to keep any viruses from spreading.

Being French, there’s a version for more intimate dining — a dome that cocoons its occupants in romantic isolation from the rest of the room.

Among other revamped restaurants across Europe:

— At El Salamanca, a Barcelona beachfront restaurant known for paella, traditional menus are gone, so customers use their smart phones to scan a QR code and tap into a virtual menu.

— Greek restaurants are using salt and pepper sachets inside of shakers, and menus are either thrown away after each meal or laminated and wiped down regularly. Many waiters have face shields, and some tavernas have staff in matching face masks.

— In the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, a restaurant on the banks of the Volga and Oka rivers has set up 20 plastic huts for couples. It is awaiting approval from authorities to open.

— Italian restaurants are using contact tracing. Diners are encouraged to reserve tables ahead of time, and owners are keeping their contact information.

If someone subsequently tests positive for COVID-19, the restaurant can quickly identify and contact those who dined there at the same time.


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