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Eating out During the Coronavirus

Lead image courtesy of Willem Velthoven Amsterdam / Mediamatic Amsterdam

As various parts of the world ease out of coronavirus lockdowns, restaurants are finding creative ways to ensure patrons feel safe while eating out during the coronavirus.

Some eateries are getting creative in order to maintain social distancing between customers and staff. Others are just trying to bring some levity to the stressful situation.

Here's some of what you can expect from the experience of dining out in the time of COVID-19.

Quarantine Greenhouses

Eating out During the Coronavirus

The "quarantine greenhouses" at Amsterdam's Mediamatic Eten. Credit: Willem Velthoven Amsterdam / Mediamatic Amsterdam

Restaurants are reopening for dining in the Netherlands on June 1, but Amsterdam's Mediamatic Eten is already serving customers — albeit in a wholly different way than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fine dining restaurant has added five "quarantine greenhouses" to its outdoor patio area. Two people can sit in each of the glass structures, which the restaurant calls "serres séparées" — a play on the phrase "chambre séparée," which denotes a private room in a restaurant or bar.

Mediamatic Eten tested out the greenhouses on April 27 and May 5, using family and friends as their guinea pigs. Waitstaff wore face shields and used long boards to deliver food to tables through an open door in the greenhouses as a way of maintaining social distancing.

Swedish Chefs: Sneezing Screens and a Table for One

While restaurants are reopening in much of the world, people in Sweden never stopped eating out during the coronavirus — however, restaurants have had to adhere to new restrictions designed to support social distancing.

Stedsans in the Woods, for example, already had outdoor seating, but in response to the coronavirus, it built two-person benches for pairs of diners to share. The restaurant also added plexiglass partitions to its communal tables to serve as "sneezing screens" between groups.

Eating out During the Coronavirus

The "sneezing screens" at Stedsans in the Woods Credit: Stedsans in the Woods

Another Swedish restaurant, Bord För En, only just opened, and it might offer the safest options for eating out during the coronavirus. It features a single table with a single chair, positioned in the middle of a field 50 yards away from the house where the food is cooked.

Eating out During the Coronavirus

Bord För En's extreme take on social distancing. Credit: Linda Karlsson

The chef uses a basket hanging from a rope connected to the kitchen window to send a three-course meal to the table. Guests decide for themselves what they want to pay for the meal, and after they leave, the restaurant owners wait six hours before sanitizing the chair and table.

Mannequins Practice Social Distancing, Too

Eating out During the Coronavirus

The mannequins filling in for guests at the Inn at Little Washington. Credit: The Inn at Little Washington

Virginia has already begun to lift restrictions on restaurants, and one has a plan to make social distancing a little more fun for customers eating out during the coronavirus.

"When we needed to solve the problem of social distancing and reducing our restaurant's occupancy by half, the solution seemed obvious — fill it with interestingly dressed dummies," Patrick O'Connell, chef/proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington, said in a statement.

"This would allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops," he continued.

The restaurant won't begin serving customers in-house again until May 29, but it has already shared photos of the mannequins on its social media accounts. They're dressed in a 1940s style, and D.C.'s Design Foundry and Signature Theatre provided the costumes and makeup.

"When the Inn at Little Washington reached out with the idea to costume mannequins, we thought it was a fun and creative way for them to conform to social distancing guidelines," Signature Theatre's Managing Director Maggie Boland said

DIY Social Distancing

Of course, not every restaurant can afford to build glass shelters or restrict their seating to one patron at a time, so many are opting for more DIY ways to help customers feel safe while eating out during the coronavirus.

In preparation for its May 21 reopening, the Twisted Citrus in Ohio has hung plastic shower curtains between tables to minimize any potential spread of the virus. Several other eateries are using tape and plastic wrap to restrict where patrons can sit in an attempt to keep them a safe distance apart from one another.

Eating out During the Coronavirus

Twisted Citrus's DIY approach to social distancing. Credit: Twisted Citrus

It's still too soon to say whether these measures will be enough to convince diners that it's safe to enjoy a meal out. But if they aren't, restaurateurs will just try something else, Mississippi chef John Currence told the New York Times.

"At the end of the day, we're problem solvers and we will find a way to do this," Currence said. "The restaurant industry is about constant chaos and writing a ballet out of that chaos. We've spent all of our careers preparing for this moment."

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