Body temperature checks at the entrance; a bottle of hand sanitiser at each table; servers wearing masks, gloves and face-shields and no-contact menus and bills — much in the dining out experience has already changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic since restaurants around the country began reopening in June. Given the social nature of the experience, this was bound to happen. But how much restaurant design itself will evolve to accommodate new concerns about social distancing will only become clear gradually. An idea of the direction in which things will move is, perhaps, indicated by the new COVID-ready restaurant launched last month by Impresario Handmade Restaurants.
The plans to launch Dwarka SOCIAL in Delhi was underway when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, says Riyaaz Amlani, Impresario’s CEO and MD. “The pandemic postponed our plans, but we then decided to address the concerns about social distancing in the design. COVID is going to be here for a while, so we have to get used to living our lives. People do still want to go out and have a good time. We just have to find a way in which they can do so safely,” he says.
This is why, says Sanchit Arora of Delhi-based architecture firm Renesa, space was constructed in a way that people could have their own private spaces, should they feel the need. The safety measures also had to feel organic and non-intrusive, says Arora, who designed the restaurant. He explains, “Riyaaz wanted to draw inspiration from the markets and alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. As we began designing the space, it became easy to make small spaces in which people could have some privacy if they wanted,” he explains. In one section, for example, eating booths, resembling the Vietnamese city’s famous “pay-and-stay” accommodations, have been designed at split levels in such a way that no two booths nestle against each other, while the booths close to the restaurant’s entrance are designed to resemble small shops. The design has also made good use of foldable wooden partitions and bamboo chik blinds, particularly at the community table where, Arora says, people may still want distance from their neighbours.
While incorporating elements of COVID-readiness in the restaurant’s design itself is a smart move, Amlani says that the most important change in any restaurant will come in the form of digitisation. “The hospitality industry is a people-to-people business, so there will always be interaction. But contactless interaction with the digitisation of menus, payment etc is the one change that is here to stay, as we do our best to keep ourselves, our customers and our teams safe,” he says.
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