Restaurant design in a post Covid-19 world

Restaurant designers will abandon social distancing and return to pre-pandemic spacing – but not until early 2021. That’s according to a White Paper by Dubai-based interior design firm Roar.

A survey of 170 industrial professionals revealed that only a quarter (26%) think a return to normal spacing will happen before the end of this year. Most (64%) expect that to happen next year, while a small minority (5%) say the restaurant trade will never return to normal.

“Safe spacing will be the most dramatic impact on restaurants – but according to our experts, one that is likely to be short-lived,” says Pallavi Dean, founder and Creative Director of Roar.

The White Paper noted that guidelines in the International Building Codes (IBC) for F&B specify an average 15ft2 per seated diner, and 5ft2 for customers standing in so-called ‘vertical drinking’ areas. Current World Health Organisation guidelines call for 27ft2 per diner in F&B outlets.

‘Layout and spacing’ was the first of the big three issues highlighted in the report, with ‘contactless’ and ‘buffet/sharing food concepts’ the other two major concerns. “Very few people expect dining to be fully contactless,” Dean adds. “Far more likely is what we’re calling ‘contact-light’.”

According to the White Paper, the contactless trend will have multiple impacts – some relating to objects, others to people. Physical menus may become rare, if not extinct. The same may be true of communal salt and pepper shakers, and the grubby three-week-old bottle of ketchup in the middle of the table. Sharing mezze with close family members will likely endure, but sharing platters at large corporate functions may not.

The prosaic, administrative and functional aspects of the restaurant experience must also be reimagined, according to the study. Restrooms in particularly must be completely re-planned, with every unnecessary touchpoint removed: doors, soap, taps, drying facilities and so on.

People, however, are a different matter. “Since the dawn of restaurants, a charismatic maitre d’, waiter, chef, barman or patron has been the lifeblood of a good restaurant – nowhere more than in the Middle East, where I grew up,” says Dean. The White Paper concluded that this physical familiarity will ultimately endure, though maybe not before a vaccine for Covid-19 becomes readily available.