How Indian restaurant industry could embrace design-led solutions to social distancing post-coronavirus lockdown

With new social distancing norms being implemented, we asked how SKID's Shweta Kaushik sees restaurants having to change their design and layouts to keep diners six feet apart.

Aatish Nath June 09, 2020 10:02:29 IST
How Indian restaurant industry could embrace design-led solutions to social distancing post-coronavirus lockdown

In Mumbai, Shweta Kaushik’s restaurant consultancy, SKID is responsible for some of the city’s most beloved eateries — from the different outposts of Middle Eastern eatery Bayroute to innovative Indian at Trésind. Her designs are specific to the vibe that each restaurant wants to establish — whether that entails customised light fixtures or making each table Instagram-ready. With new social distancing norms being implemented for the short to medium term though, we asked how she sees restaurants having to change their design and layouts to keep diners six feet apart.

How are you preparing for a change in the way restaurants think about their interiors?

There has been a lot of discussion within the hospitality and design industry on what restaurant design would be post-COVID-19. The primary focus is on how restaurants can provide a safe environment for their patrons.

We have already begun to see images coming in from Hong Kong, Seoul, and China of the measures that are being taken for diners. We've seen partitions installed between tables and booths, disinfectants at the entrance of restaurants, the spacing between tables has increased and extra measures like wearing masks are taken by the staff.

What do you think are some of the changes that will be required in planning out restaurants and layouts? What are the design challenges that you foresee? 

Hygiene and sanitation will be of the utmost importance and there could be a scenario where there may be vestibules for patrons to wash up and disinfect before they enter the restaurant. Other options include hygiene caddies provided at every table with servers wearing gloves and masks, and contactless menus over the phone through apps.

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Representational image. AP

While distancing between tables would be the most obvious solution, it is not a viable model for brands as rents are high and space is scarce. We at SKID predict that the open-plan and community table concepts for restaurants and bars could be renounced in favour of intimate private seating. Introducing partitions between tables and booth seating that don't take up a lot of space would be a way to address both concerns in restaurants that can do so.

Besides the dining area, can you take us into the kitchen and how that might change with future restaurant design? As chefs will also have to maintain social distancing guidelines. 

Transparency begets trust and I do see a scenario where open kitchens, live kitchens or open food bars where patrons can see their food being cooked under hygienic conditions would take precedence. However, in a city like Mumbai where rents are high and spaces are small, it's unfathomable to imagine large kitchens where chefs have to maintain social distancing. Therefore the emphasis will be on general hygiene, sanitation, and temperature checks before chefs report for duty. In addition, brands that have built their patron's trust over the years on serving quality fare would probably do better.

You've worked on adaptable designs in the past, which sees spaces come together and change as per needs. Do you think that will become more relevant?

We have already seen a rise in delivery-based models across restaurants in the city which is expected in the current scenario. For the next few months, it has been suggested that when the lockdown is lifted restaurants may begin with a 30-50 percent occupancy as has already started in places like Hong Kong, China and South Korea. In that scenario, the existing kitchens should be able to suffice serving patrons and the delivery model.

How are restaurants going to adapt to the changes necessary to keep social distancing norms in place? Is the typical restaurant designed in an adaptable way?

Unfortunately, a typical restaurant is not designed in an adaptable way. Maintaining the highest level of hygiene will be paramount. Fewer servers on a shift will ensure there aren't too many staff members in the restaurant, bigger groups may be discouraged and limitations on the number of people on the table may be exercised.

Eating out has been driven by food and hospitality; how do you see eateries work in design-led solutions to be warm without encouraging unnecessary contact?

The crisis today is unprecedented, and we feel that until the situation is under control, eating out is going to be limited to the absolutely necessary. However, having said that, hospitality does play an important part in eating out and I believe that can still be achieved by the staff taking care of patrons and making them feel safe in the restaurant environment.

The general consensus is that these solutions that we are considering taking today are temporary and there is hope that life will return back to a vague sense of normal — albeit with better hygiene standards.

Also read: As Indian restaurant industry eyes post-lockdown reopening, introspection aplenty on what it will take to succeed

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