6 Great Ways to Social Distance Your Restaurant

A restaurant in a tent - Source National Restaurant Association
6 Great Ways to Social Distance Your Restaurant

As states reopen businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are finding simple and clever ways to encourage social distancing.

In order to adhere to guidelines of 25% to 50% capacity, two to three of every four tables will have to be kept empty to ensure distance between diners. Instead of merely taping those seats off, here are some innovative ways restaurants are adapting to the new normal.

Expand outdoor dining. Many cities have given restaurants the chance to expand dining into untraditional outside spaces. Cities such as Cincinnati and Boston have closed off some streets to vehicles, creating pedestrian thoroughfares restaurants can spread into with outdoor seating.

This example is a reminder that if you’re going to ask patrons to wait outside until their table is ready, some inexpensive plastic chairs and a few pop-up tents or umbrellas will make their wait more comfortable.

In Dallas, Revelers Hall built a temporary “parklet,” an outdoor seating space that takes up the size of a standard parking space, in order to distance outdoor seating from pedestrians on the sidewalk.

City officials in Orlando gave Stardust Video and Coffee permission to use its huge parking lot for outdoor dining. Forbici in Tampa set up a big white tent with chairs and tables appropriately spaced on the street when the city temporarily suspended certain code and permit requirements.

Dining Pods. Pubbelly Sushi, with locations in Miami, installed custom-designed pods made with dense polyethylene plastic sheets framed in wooden borders around booths to tactfully balance guests’ dining experience with safety.

In Amsterdam and Germany, some restaurants are experimenting with small glass greenhouses to create separated dining spaces outdoors.

Clear dividers. Many operations have installed clear plastic dividers either to separate tables or interaction points within the operation. Pico’s Restaurant in Houston positioned a plastic divider at the bar, and The Winery in Newport Beach, California set up clear dividers between tables both inside and outside to minimize exposure between customers.

As a more temporary solution, Twisted Citrus, in North Canton, Ohio, hung clear shower curtains from PVC pipes to separate tables after noting a shortage of plastic dividers.

Assigned seats at the bar. In New Orleans, managers are experimenting with having assigned seats at the bar to discourage the mingling typical at drinking establishments.

Encourage pre-ordering. Another idea is to let guests order in advance so that their food is ready quickly when they arrive. This will limit their amount of exposure while they dine and it will also help turn tables quicker, permitting more sales in a day even while capacity is cut by a quarter or more.

Do something unique. Restaurants around the globe have tried some ridiculous ways to encourage social distancing while adding some humor to an otherwise sobering turn of events.

A restaurant in Thailand placed stuffed animals in empty seats, and one in Germany asked diners to wear pool-noodle hats (scroll down in link) to help them gauge how far they should be from nearby patrons. Meanwhile in Ocean City, Maryland, Fish Tales recently launched “bumper tables,” which are large, round, inner-tube-framed tables on casters.