How COVID-19 is Affecting Restaurant Design

The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard by shelter in place orders and other restrictions that are designed to encourage social distancing and reduce the spread of the virus. For restaurants that are allowed to operate in some capacity, they are having to make major adjustments to not only adhere to safety protocols, but also try to remain profitable in the face of diminished dine-in capabilities. All of these efforts are having a major influence on every aspect of restaurant design so that the future of restaurants will look much different than what we have been used to experiencing.

Making Better Use of Space

The first step to practicing social distancing while also maximizing capacity, is to open up outdoor dining spaces. In spaces where it isn’t possible to expand seating to the outdoors, restaurants are looking for ways to shrink the back-of-house footprint to make room for more seating up front. Oftentimes, this kind of restaurant design lends itself to reducing the number of employees while still trying to meet the same standards for food quality and service. 

Ultimately, restaurants will have to adjust and create more flexible and scalable seating models. This means being able to quickly expand or shrink seating as necessary while still providing a safe and enjoyable dining experience. While this might seem like a tall order, it is a challenge designers will have to face. 

There has also been a major shift to take-out menus and dining. In many cases, this also requires a reconfiguration in restaurant design to accommodate these stations and create a safe place for customers to pick up their food. All of this is affecting the way restaurants design and use space.

Incorporating Different Materials

Restaurants work hard to use design to create a certain ambiance that reflects the type of food they serve and the image they want to project. Every detail from the drapes and tablecloths to the type of seating is carefully chosen. However, COVID-19 is limiting design choices and forcing restaurants to opt for different material throughout the building.

Table settings with cloth coverings, flowers, lamps, candles and other accessories that help set the mood may be a thing of the past. Reusable menus are being replaced with disposable or digital versions. Customers can also expect to see a change in the types of materials that are used throughout restaurants. Soft materials, such as cushions, carpets and drapes, along with porous surfaces, including wood and granite, will be replaced with solid, non-porous options. Stainless steel, laminate and porcelain are less absorbent and easier to clean, making them a better choice for sanitation.  

The Future of Restaurant Design

Looking to the future, social distancing will likely become embedded in the initial design of restaurant spaces. For instance, bar tops may become deeper in order to put more distance between customers and employees. Sneeze guards and permanent partitions among tables may also become commonplace even in higher end establishments. Open kitchen design, which allows customers to watch their food being prepared, may also offer some transparency and make customers feel safer and more confident about patronizing certain restaurants. Design will be heavily influenced by the need for social distancing, flexibility, scalability and overall safety.

Funding for Restaurant Re-Designs

Restaurants are already facing major financial hardships, so the burden of having to invest in re-designs and reconfigurations is simply out of the question for many businesses. Fortunately, other businesses are stepping up and offering assistance. For example, the Rockwell Group started a program called DineOut NYC, which was able to build six outdoor dining areas across the city. Donations from design vendors and furniture and fabric manufacturers helped make the renovations and new build possible. By pooling resources and donating time and materials, the entire business community is coming together to support restaurants so that they can survive the pandemic.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made the future uncertain, what we do know is that some of the changes we are seeing now will become a permanent part of the restaurant landscape for years to come. The need for better sanitizing and social distance will continue to influence restaurant design and require innovative solutions. The more restaurants are able to adapt, the better chance they have of remaining open and profitable.

FAQs

How are restaurants affording this new restructuring? 

In some cases, other businesses are combining their resources to offer pro-bono services that include everything from building new outdoor dining spaces to donating furniture and materials. The DineOut NYC program is just one example of these types of efforts.

How are restaurant designs adapting to the new laws about outdoor dining? 

Restaurants are improving air circulation, limiting employee numbers, removing table decor, expanding take-out menus and spaces, incorporating non-porous materials and controlling social distancing and the flow of foot traffic.

What do the future restaurant designs look like? 

Expect to see more spacing among tables, taller sneeze guards, deeper bars, permanent partitions and other design details that encourage distancing and improve sanitation.

What changes to fabrics or materials will occur? 

Restaurants will be moving away from using fabrics and other porous materials, such as granite and wood. Instead, consumers can expect to see more laminates and plastic surfaces that are non-porous and easy to clean.

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