What will make diners feel safe

A vaccine is probably the first answer that comes to mind. But since there are still major issues regarding its production, approval and distribution, a reinvented restaurant setup seems to be the next best option. 

One of the current most popular trends in new normal dining are outdoor pods—bubbles, to be exact.

Two hotels in the country have recently started operating their own version of see-through dining enclosures which they call ‘vubbles,’ a portmanteau of ‘Vega pool’ (the facility’s outdoor swimming pool where the pods are situated nearby) and ‘bubbles.’ Sheraton Manila and Hilton Manila created this social bubble for their diners in hopes of providing them with a safer and more unique dining experience. 

outdoor dining bubble
Sheraton Manila’s latest outdoor dining ‘vubble’

The frameless structure is UV-, water-, and moisture-proof. Aside from the design, each pod is well-ventilated, with an open top and windows, and keeps a stable temperature for the comfort of each guest. Portable air-conditioners also permit safe and comfortable airflow.

But are these dining innovations really safe?

Risks and the critical role of ventilation

Aditya Shah, an assistant professor of infectious diseases from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, believes that there is no right answer to this question of safety. However, there are various levels of risks that need to be considered before going into these spaces as such dining pods can create the same condition of indoor dining, only outdoors. 

If such structures are too tight, there may not be enough room for cross-ventilation especially when the doors and windows are shut. This means that droplets that diners exhale from talking, breathing or other unmasked activity may build up and linger inside the bubble.

On the other hand, outdoor pods can limit the exposure a group of diners have to the rest of their environment. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says that mathematically speaking, it is safer than dining inside a restaurant where there is greater exposure. 

outdoor pods
The pod illuminates at night for the guests’ evening dining experience.

Risks are also fairly lower inside these pods when diners are with members of immediate family or trusted people—almost mimicking what it’s like to dine at home.

What most experts suggest is proper ventilation and sanitation. This makes all the difference between dining inside and outside. It’s important that the space doesn’t feel stuffy and that guests aren’t breathing stale air. No need for a breeze, just consistent air flow. 

Fans and air conditioners must also be properly positioned so as not to move the same contaminated air around. They should always be positioned facing the enclosure’s opening.

Just as ventilation is crucial, proper hygiene and sanitation must also be observed. It pays to have these measures diligently practiced for a safe dining experience inside and outside.

Perhaps this is how dining in the future would look like.

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