Patrons under plastic: Restaurants get creative in virus era

PARIS (AP) — Dining at a table where each person is enclosed by a clear plastic shield might look and sound futuristic, but it could be one way for some restaurants to reopen. It also might help out if your companion orders escargots, heavy on the garlic.

The prototype plastic shields are known as the ‘Plex’eat’, and they resemble big clear lampshades suspended from the ceiling. They are being showcased temporarily at H.A.N.D., a Parisian restaurant seeking a way to reopen its dining room as coronavirus restrictions are relaxed.

As restaurateurs around the world seek to resume in-person dining amid the pandemic, they want to adhere to social distancing rules while also trying to serve as many customers as health and safety measures will allow.

Some are putting mannequins at every other table to put some space between the actual customers, like at Augustas and Barbora, a restaurant in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Some of its faux diners are dressed casually, while others look as though they are at a ball. The clothes showcase the work of local fashion designers.

“We want to fill the space with fun things,” said owner Patrikas Ribas.

A man and a woman demonstrate dining under a plastic shield in a restaurant in Paris. PHOTO: AP

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius called the initiative a “perfect match of communal spirit and creativity working side by side”.

At Amsterdam’s Mediamatic restaurant, the owners have erected small glass houses that surround each table, served by waiters in protective shields.

While many restaurants offered take-out and delivery during the health crisis to keep generating at least some income, such practices are less common in France, although Michelin starred chefs such as Alain Ducasse have started doing take-out service.

Owners are seeking solutions that will coax back customers while also easing their anxiety about catching the virus.

The Director of H.A.N.D Mathieu Manzoni said he thinks the plastic shields are a “pretty, more poetic” solution for restaurateurs who fear that social distancing could cut their capacity by half or more.

“There is a bit of a panic,” Manzoni said.

Makers of the Plex’eat said they have received more than 200 preorders around the world, including from France, the United States (US) and Japan.

Designer Christophe Gernigon said he got the idea after visiting a store in Bangkok “with three individual domes with chairs where people would sit and listen to music”.