What would the new restaurant design be like in the post pandemic time?

Weekend dining out has been one of the biggest things I miss from pre-pandemic days. 

I miss many things about the dining out experience; the anticipation of getting together with friends, trying new dishes, and not having to cook!.

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As the city slowly allows the restaurants to open, I find myself focussing more on restaurant settings than the menus when it comes to deciding on the restaurant selection.  

Apparently, focussing restaurant set-up (rather than the food) is the new normal all of us face in this strange time of the pandemic.  

Being an architect, I often get questions on ‘good’ restaurant design. They range from entrance locations, seating arrangements or even a business question like having a street presence (so people likely would come in).

However, the discussion on restaurant design has completely changed in recent time, like everything else in our lives.

As we are inching towards the ‘end’ of the pandemic time, our dining experience will be forever changed.

Fine dining restaurants can learn from fast-food chains

Six-course dinner takeouts! Yes, takeouts.

I read an article, Zagat survey; this crazy concept was born during the pandemic and had been practised successfully!

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The idea of opening each six-course dinner containers makes me pause and think.

How long the process was, or more importantly, how hungry I would get from opening all those containers!

According to the survey, 84% of people responded they are less likely to visit a restaurant when it opens if it’s operating at full capacity. 

Turns out I’m one of those people.

As an architect dealing with restaurant designs, focusing mainly on visual elements of restaurant design – interior finish materials, light fixtures etc. – is clearly not going to be enough. 

The restaurant’s experience/atmosphere/vibes matter, but the post-pandemic ready systems have to be put in place; for us to feel safe in such public areas.  

In terms of these systems, fast food chains definitely have them down. Before the pandemic, these chains had many plans within their restaurant and their customers.  

I have my rituals at my favourite McDonald’s…or I should say McDonald’s rituals.

The practice of making the decision before stepping into the restaurant, ordering the package (big Mac meal), and promptly stepping away from the cashier, so the next customer can take my place…are such rituals.

It is a well-oiled machine of a system!

Moving through an ordering line like the Seinfeld show, Nazi Soap setting – and not bumping into other customers and now with added social distance requirement – sounds like the perfect match made in heaven in our new normal life.

Of course, the efficiency does not stop at the ordering counter. 

It continues into the whole dining experience; fixed seats away from the order counter, ideally located garbage can for my empty french fries bag before heading out.

Once again, it is a machine, a well-oiled one (pun intended).

With new normal practices during the pandemic and likely beyond, moving through the unique dining experience in this somewhat machine-like setting may not be such a strange concept after all. 

It just might be the new experience we would crave after the delivery of a six-course meal at home and dealing with many containers.

Ghost Kitchen

Although it sounds wrong to associate ghosts with kitchens, the concept is gaining interest due to the pandemic. 

Ghost kitchen was used in a 2015 NBC New York article, well before the pandemic. 

That idea was to have one big kitchen used by different restaurant owners to prepare food and deliver the takeout from this one location.

Credit: The Hustle Company

The article was critical for restaurant owners to have ONE kitchen location with several restaurants’ brand names.

Even with perceived (or actual) negative connotations of the ghost kitchen – an unclear division of responsibilities between different restaurants, or worse, lack of leadership in running and keeping the kitchen in top condition – they also provide benefits. 

Opening restaurants without the additional cost of kitchen/equipment sounds like an economical option for the owners and responsible for our climate change discussion time.   

With the high rate of restaurants failures, ghost kitchen could be a responsible business model. 

With the demand for takeouts increasing now and beyond, having one kitchen shared by different restaurant owners could be another change we need to consider.  

EVERYTHING is changing in our lives due to this pandemic, and making adjustments is part of an inevitable process. 

The first step in this process requires flexibility; both in our attitudes and also our physical environment.  

Importance of flexibility in all things

Being a pessimist, a cautious person tells me that this pandemic may not be the last crisis we face. 

We need to confront and solve future challenges like we tried to do with the pandemic. 

As we are experiencing these seismic changes in our lives, one thing is sure; flexibility is the king

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It is our best preparation in forever-changing times to survive or to thrive.  

Being forced to adopt many changes during the pandemic gave me the ‘experience’ I can use for future challenges. 

Design works the same way as our attitude.

What is once considered a five-star restaurant with many amenities may not be the example of good restaurant design owners/customers prefer in this forever changed time.   

Building flexibility in design ideas from the beginning is the new normal we designers need to consider as we move into the post-pandemic era. 

Final Thought

In the old days, designers tend to focus more on visual elements in restaurant design: interior finish materials, light fixtures, branding, etc.  

These would stay as essential considerations; however, they should not be the starting point of our discussions in restaurant designs or any other designs.  

As creators, we have new responsibilities besides the work of design.

It is not enough to design for NOW, but anticipates the FUTURE that requires the changes from those initial designs. 

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