How restaurant design is changing in the wake of COVID-19


Masked waiters, tables six feet apart, plexiglass barriers, and even stuffed animals occupying seats, these are some of the changes you might encounter the next time you dine out. As many US states and countries around the world emerge from lockdown, a whole new set of restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 come into play. While there is still a lot we don’t know on the coronavirus, its rapid person-to-person spread is a threat to restaurant operations. And while many restaurants are suffering financially, some are offering creative ways to reopen while still sticking to social distancing guidelines.

Making the most of the outdoor space

Melba’s in Harlem received a new, safer outdoor seating design by The Rockwell Group as part of the company’s pro bono DineOut NYC project.

Photo: Emily Andrews for Rockwell Group

Every summer, in cities across the northern hemisphere, the demand for alfresco dining soars. This year, however, the ability to sit outside in the fresh air – where coronavirus infection is less likely to occur – is paramount. In fact, al fresco dining may be the only option for dining enthusiasts in cities like New York for the foreseeable future. Although the city has just entered Phase 3 of the coronavirus lockdown, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that restaurants would not be allowed to reopen for indoor dining as scheduled, due to the rampant spread of the coronavirus in states like California, Florida and Texas.

Restaurants in New York have made a big effort to expand their outdoor dining space where possible, and luckily the mayor is making it easier. As part of the Open Streets plan, 67 miles of streets are closed to vehicular traffic, with more than 2.6 miles dedicated to Open Restaurants, an initiative that gives restaurateurs permission to extend their footprint on sidewalks and streets on weekends provided they meet certain Criteria. So far, 6,800 restaurants in New York have reopened for alfresco dining.

One of those restaurants is Melba’s in Harlem, which received a makeover design from the Rockwell Group as part of the company’s pro bono DineOut NYC project. According to founder and president David Rockwell, the project started when he reached out to his friend Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s restaurant and president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, to ask how he could help create a safe space for employees at catering and guests. He and his company built and donated six alfresco dining rooms at neighborhood restaurants in the five boroughs with the help of donations from furniture and fabric manufacturers and other suppliers to the design industry. .


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