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Reimagining Dining Experiences and Restaurant Design 

September 9, 2021

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the restaurant industry. For a large portion of 2020, many restaurants had to temporarily close or turn to offering take out only to maintain some business. Even now as restaurants in most states are open at capacity, the Delta variant has led to people once again being unwilling to eat out. 

The National Restaurant Association, in a letter to Congress, share the results of a consumer survey and their concerns for the future of the industry.  

In a press release, the association shared that, “6 in 10 adults changed their restaurant use due to the rise in the delta variant.” The survey also showed that nearly 20% of adults have stopped dining out at restaurants entirely. 

What is the solution to encouraging people to return to restaurants? Gary Johnson, in an article for Buildings.com, proposes that restaurant designers will need to re-think their approach to be able to accommodate the social distancing that many patrons have come to expect. 

Johnson emphasizes that flexibility will be one of the most important hallmarks of a successful restaurant. There is a need for restaurants to be able to modify the seating plan to accommodate extra space, when social distancing is needed, and additional seating when it’s not, to maximize income. 

He also states that designers need to stop viewing social distancing as an inconvenience and start viewing it in a different light. 

“Right now, we are distanced for health reasons, but if we re-think the problem where space is rebranded as ‘luxury,’ then the dining experience itself is redefined and transformed,” says Johnson. “Social distancing becomes a positive which may alter how we view our dining experiences in the future.”   

Decorative elements can help achieve this, says Johnson. He suggests turning to decorative glass screens, high-backed booths, and other design elements to create separation between tables instead of plexiglass dividers or other makeshift solutions. 

A change to cleaning processes is also part of the solution. Customers now have a higher expectation for sanitation in shared places. Johnson says this means more frequent deep cleaning and use of disinfectants and integration of better air filtration systems for new builds. 

Johnson also suggests looking to the past for future modifications. He offers up the ideas of bringing back cloches, dish covers often seen in old movies. 

“Keeping with tradition of the early parts of the last century, having the server present a dome tableside [sic] and then removing it with a flourish was a great spectacle and a symbol of dining elegance,” says Johnson. 

There are more modern approaches Johnson offers, including borrowing from the popular bento box lunchbox trend and serving restaurant meals in containers with lids.  

Regardless of the design solutions implemented, Johnson is optimistic that the restaurant industry will return to the level of success they once enjoyed. 

“One day soon we will be able to enjoy dining out again and being in the company of others and the laughter will return,” Johnson concludes. “But let’s also learn from this crisis and modify with positive approaches the way we design, build, and how we serve guests for a prosperous and healthy future.” 

Learn more about Capitol Tech’s degree programs in Construction, Facilities, and Safety, including courses on best practices for design of a variety of facilities. Many courses are available both on campus and online. For more information, contact admissions@captechu.edu