As lockdowns ease and businesses reopen, entrepreneurs are taking the time to come up with effective and creative solutions to implement social distancing in their establishments and, well, offer a little entertainment to customers who want to dine in.

Quirky additions

In Germany, a cafe called Café & Konditorei Roth has been handing out inflatable noodle-shaped hats to customers to maintain a safe distance between them as they sip their coffee while fast food giant Burger King recently released do-it-yourself, oversized crowns as a new way to practice social distancing—approximately six feet away from each other.

Meanwhile, in Asia, restaurant owners still managed to inject an element of cuteness in their social distancing practices. Dining with cartoon dragons and stuffed pandas in Thailand or animal stuffed toys in Japan, anyone?

Another unusually fun way of eating in a restaurant requires standing in the middle of a vinyl record table on wheels. These bumper tables, as the waterfront restaurant in Maryland calls it, are meant for customers waiting to be seated or those who usually like to sit at the bar. Besides encouraging social distancing, they also serve as a novel marketing strategy since who wouldn’t want to take pictures in it?

Unreal humans with human functions

People will be seeing more fake humans if they opt to dine in restaurants. In Vilnius, Lithuania, restaurants, bars, and cafes look more like a fashion show. Fashion designers in the Baltic city showcased their collections by dressing up mannequins displayed in the establishments.  

Social distancing in Vilnius: At each table, visitors will be able to find information about the exhibited items and where each piece can be purchased
At each table, visitors will be able to find information about the exhibited items and where each piece can be purchased

“Empty tables inside our restaurant look rather odd, and we don’t have any way to remove them,” says Bernie Ter Braak, owner of Cosy restaurant who co-authored the idea with local fashion designer Julija Janus. “We decided to reach out to our neighbors, fashion boutique stores, and invited them to use our empty tables to showcase their newest collections.” 

Currently, a few dozen restaurants and cafes located in Vilnius Old Town Glass Quarter are participating in the initiative, with over 60 originally dressed mannequins placed at unused indoor tables; visitors will be able to find information about the exhibited items and where each piece can be purchased. 

Across the Atlantic, three Michelin-starred restaurant Inn at Little Washington also got the memo about mannequins dressed to the nines. And to add a human touch, servers will also pour wine to the life-sized dolls and ask them about their dining experience. Guests at the in-house restaurant of Hotel Haanse in Germany will also be welcomed by mannequins as fillers for empty tables.

In Australia, an Italian bar and restaurant called Five Dock Dining went on a slightly lighter approach by placing cut-out cardboard people complete with a recording of chattering customers played on the speakers. 

But some business owners are counting on technology to minimize human-to-human interaction. La Gitana Loca in Seville, Spain employs a robot barman that serves beer to customers without fear of contamination. The premise is simple: The robot named Beer Cart will dispense a plastic cup, fill it under the tap then place it on the bar before the customer picks it up. 

A cafe in Daejeon, South Korea follows a similar concept with a robot barista, complete with speaking abilities and motor skills, engineered to pick up drinks, deliver them to customers, and politely greet guests or share tips on how best to enjoy it. 

New inventions

More than the quirky and entertaining innovations mentioned, some business owners went out of their way to develop new methods of serving customers while ensuring safe social distancing.

A French designer created a transparent plastic cylinder that looks like a lampshade bubble pod called Plex’Eat. It hangs from the ceiling and is positioned directly above a chair that will serve as a protective cocoon for diners as they enjoy their meals. Customers don’t even have to worry about sitting down or standing up because there is a cut-out opening at the back for easy access in and out of the pod.

Closer to home, a shabu-shabu restaurant in Bangkok constructed slithering plastic barriers mounted on tables using PVC pipes, giving the impression of dining in a transparent cubicle. 

Lastly, some cafes employed mechanical machines in delivering orders to customers. A cafe in Germany built a chute that the barista uses to carry a customer’s order. The coffee will be placed in a tray and will be lowered down to the customer. The customer can also pay for their order using the chute. Similarly, a cafe in Bangkok engineered a mechanical delivery system by pulling a rope to transport the drink to the other side, where the customer can pick up the order.

The pandemic may have dealt the industry an unsettling future but judging from the creativity of these establishments,  six-feet-apart experiences don’t always equate to terrible things.

Unconventional, yes, but also optimistically surreal.