Over reaction is never the correct reaction. As we are all aware, the global population was affected by a huge change this year and it has impacted our lives, our habits, our relationships and our pleasures.
Many businesses have gone under and almost all have had to adapt or pivot their offerings and systems for working. These are positive changes as they are necessary to survival. That being said, some business may be overcompensating to the detriment of their long-term business.
Example, if you are a high end fine dining restaurant and you are trying to create a gustatory and social experience that allows the customers relaxed mind to focus solely on the pleasure of exceptional food and feel joyful and relaxed enough to drop hundreds of dollars on wine and delicacies then you must maintain that atmosphere. Placing faceless mannequins at tables in place of humans will not make people feel more relaxed, it will make them feel more alien and make going out feel more foreign and uncomfortable. I would rather eat hot dogs alone in my basement than sit next to a mannequin as if I’m on display in a department store.
At least that is a quick fix. Some businesses are investing heavily in completely recreating their footprint and service model to be touch-free, individually wrapped and completely sterile. Which at this moment feels comforting as it does when a nurse cleans the needle before pricking you. When the smoke clears and we return to life without masks what will be left over is a legacy of disconnection coupled with an even bigger buy-in to our disposable single-serve life at the compromise of quality and the environment.
Many new ideas are coming about on how to pivot and adapt our systems to a COVID19 world however, is this a world we want to live in long term? Starbucks adapting to drive thru and exclusive use of their app is smart and actually does not change their overall brand for the long term.
If you once based your business on hand made drinks and personal social interaction, completely renovating spaces to use single serve and touch-less everything is feeding into a paranoia that we will need to live in a single serve, cellophane wrapped, sterile world. We will be submitting to lesser quality of products in exchange for paranoid piece of mind.
This seems short sighted and may cause more damage overall than it does help in the short term.
I am making a call to creativity. We need to make a greater effort to (not only provide a safe environment to our customers) preserve our cultural viability as a necessary luxury. Everyone seems to have the same basic reaction: sterile, clinical, hard boundaries. Just because we don’t want to get sick doesn’t mean we want to eat in a hospital cafeteria or a pharmaceutical lab. Why not create natural boundaries with large feature plants, shelf structures with potted plants to create barriers. Have fun with the format of how people move through the space. Create a maze within the restaurant that develops natural boundaries through shape.
If you can only have 25% capacities why not use the excess space to make it more beautiful and less empty. Set up retail shelves and sell more products on the dining floor. Sofia’s in Little Italy made a quick turn to become an Italian specialty grocer during the Shelter at Home phase in New York. They also provided ready-made meals that guests could take home and finish at their leisure. Sofia’s was able to become a neighborhood savior in a time when New Yorker’s were missing their comforts the most.
We should be using natural elements as design features that create natural barriers, filter the air and provide fresh oxygen to create an uplifting feeling for our guests. Why make social distancing feel clinical and required. Why not make privacy a feature and a comfort.
Of course waiters must wear masks however they do not have to be the clinical, impersonal nurses mask. They can be fun and colorful and reveal a part of the server’s personality. Sell wines by the bottle to take home or better yet, create a picnic basket to take away and enjoy in the open air of the park while having your favorite nibbles.
At first we all just wanted to see restaurants and cafes wearing masks and gloves because we were afraid. Now it is time to enter the long-term game of either sustained COVID19 existence or a return to a version of our past hospitality with a cautious arm up. Either the challenge being to create a relaxed and special experience while maintaining safety for staff and guests alike or creating reason for guests to leave their homes and remember the joy of dining out and having coffee made for them. What will you do?