Restaurant designing is a design project almost every architect has designed as a student. But the COVID pandemic has redefined the whole experience. Coming across a restaurant brings memories filled with commotion and bustle, an environment incomplete without diners. Post pandemic, a very contrasting idea of a restaurant expounds.
WIRED, a channel on Youtube, invites retail architect Sterling Plenert. He has worked on designing restaurants like BB Philadelphia, Gotham Hall, Bolivar, and more. In this video, he explains how COVID-19 impacted restaurant design and initiatives taken by New York City. Though the video focused on New York City, its guidelines can be well incorporated anywhere.
To understand post covid changes, appreciating pre-covid restaurant designs is key. Typically, a New York City restaurant resides below a tenement building. This makes them sit in tall narrow spaces. They all look stacked and snuck, facing streets. A classic restaurant could seat 40 people and almost all dinners have indoor seating. Any restaurant strived to look inviting and more customers meant better the restaurant. Now a restaurant must look safe. People should feel their healths are prioritised. More than indoor dining, restaurant designs must accommodate take out counters and home deliveries.
Initially, lockdowns lead to the temporary closing of restaurants. Then measures were taken by countries to ensure safe dining. Protocols of social distancing were made strict. Only masked customers were allowed and all employees followed stern hygiene routines to prevent spreading the virus. From 40 people the intake reduced to 10 people. This was bad for restaurant businesses across the country. The New York City sidewalk cafe initiative allowed cafes and restaurants to take over a lane of traffic on either side of the street. Various restaurants and dining groups adopted this as the ‘DineOut NYC’ project. This trend has been observed in many other countries too.
European countries inspired the concept of outdoor dining. European cities had outdoor dining for years; plazas and sidewalks filled with seating and cafes. This has been very successful in making these cities very safe and engaged. Outdoor dining is part of the city’s urban fabric and adds on as a tourist attraction.
Sterling expounds further on the challenges faced while setting up outdoor dining. Solutions were needed to make the outdoor dining experience year-round. Restaurant designs found ways to make outdoor dining stalls, keeping in mind that it must be 50% open to qualifying as outdoor dining. Another challenge was the interference of vehicular traffic which was dangerous. This was taken care of with open streets. These streets had specific times for vehicle access and outdoor dining.
Impressive how the city managed to continue outdoor dining despite its harsh winter. Restaurants will have customers despite the pandemic and weather, ergo keeping sales consistent. Evolving the open streets and outdoor dining means including green spaces and landscaping that makes the city friendlier.
New York isn’t the only city that’s smartly progressed restaurant design during the pandemic. In Rome, indoor restaurants make use of terraces for outdoor dining. Malaysia has improved its drive-throughs and Amsterdam has mini-greenhouses that merge indoor dining with outdoor dining. Pre-covid restaurant signs included directions to the toilet and fire exits. Post-covid, additional signs are put up to wear masks, social distance and sanitize.
Watching this video by WIRED brings awareness to the dependence of an urbanscape on designers and architects. The city life was brought to a standstill till architects like Sterling intervened and found effective solutions. It also shows how the pandemic had positive impacts. It pushed people to make spaces multifunctional. Designers have to be more sensitive to the possibilities the future can bring. Every city had its challenge regarding the pandemic but it’s beautiful to see how they have their solutions. It has allowed for changes that were needed but not foreseen.