Social distance, party of one: Photos showing how the coronavirus is changing how we dine out

Mannequins. Cardboard cut-outs. Plastic blow-up dolls (including some of an adult nature). Not so long ago, propping one of these items up at a dining table in public might have seemed like a farcical element straight out of a sitcom.

Now, even the strangest of socializing concepts seems like just another day in the life of living through a pandemic. But restaurants are brainstorming every safe social distancing strategy possible to reopen their doors to diners, and no idea is off the table—whether that be installing plexiglass between seats or asking guests to don pool noodle hats to ensure they stay six feet apart.

As wacky as these props might seem, restaurant managers and owners have no time left to waste.

The global hospitality industry—restaurants and bars, especially—has been particularly devastated by the shutdowns imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19. In the U.S. alone, more than 8 million restaurant workers have already been furloughed or laid off, with the risk spreading to more than 11 million as the economic crisis progresses. The restaurant and foodservice industry lost more than $80 billion in sales over the course of March and April, according to the National Restaurant Association, and that figure is projected to reach $240 billion in losses by the end of 2020.

Possibly the most dire forecast: based on a recent survey covering a third of the restaurants in its network, OpenTable estimates one in four restaurants will close before the pandemic is over—whenever that may be.

In the meantime, restaurant dining will look quite different from ever before, as these photos show, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, it could be a new source of entertainment.

EtenRestaurant, part of the Mediamatic Biotoop centre in Amsterdam, is testing greenhouse-like booths for customers to eat in, keeping them protected from other diners.
Willem Velthoven for Mediamatic Amsterdam/Cover Images/Getty Images
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