It’s a simple three-step formula that Mumbai hotels have embraced. Accept, adapt, accommodate for the ‘new normal’ dining experience. It comes with its set of demands. So what you have is rose gold powder sanitisation stations. Robots serving food. Alfresco seating being celebrated like never before. Private dining areas merging into the main area to create more space for distance seating. Introduction of elevations in the floor area, and acrylic separators. Design thinking has undergone a radical revision to prop up footfalls.
Outdoor gets indoor
While earlier the potted plants, fairy lights and mist fans ruled the courtyard, extended terrace or the alfresco areas of restaurants, now the favoured booking is ‘open to the sky’ section. No one minds the lack of air conditioning and a few desultory mosquitoes anymore.
This has prodded changed lines in table arrangements. Says Twinkle Keswani, Executive Vice-President, Silver Beach Entertainment & Hospitality (The Lazy Goose, Ministry of Salads, Estella, Nom Nom, Silver Beach Cafe), “In keeping with the protocols, we have reduced the number of tables to ensure careful separation and spacing out of seats. At the entrance, we have made space for shoe sanitisers—as a part of our entry décor—to ensure complete safety. Rose gold powder-coated sanitisation stations have been installed here as well to complement the design rhythm at our restaurants to encourage customers to use them. Outdoor spaces now bring in a sense of comfort to the diners.”
The Silver Beach Cafe in Andheri, she adds, has undergone a makeover. Originally, the restaurant had a small indoor area with a glass wall separating it from the outdoor. The same has now been taken down to blend it as one alfresco unit all in all with more and more use of plants to up the fresh greens factor. “The use of plexiglass separators on wheels lets us create a divide between tables; they are a great option because they can be used and moved keeping in mind ease of operations as well as the guest preference of having it or not in the first place. While some of these trends may be temporary, others might be here to stay,” she says.
Island bars, formerly congregation areas for many, are now passe. There has been a reduction... even the removal of bar chairs ar many restaurants. Line managers have been employed to restrict crowding or movement at the bar. Says Karan Khilnani, Founder, Elephant and Co., a gastropub in Kalyaninagar, Pune, “We have ensured better ventilation in indoor areas, and placed circular benches to bring in comfortable seating at a distance for our diners. The idea is to retain the sense of spaciousness and airiness even in the enclosed sections to encourage more footfalls.”
Zorawar Kalra, founder and managing director at Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., which owns brands including Masala Library, Pa Pa Ya, Farzi Café, Made in Punjab, YOUnion, “We have brought in separate receiving zones in each restaurant, and have sanitation spray machines to disinfect all contact surfaces. At our bar, YOUnion, in Mumbai, we have been using special robots to serve drinks.”
As leading chefs set up successful cloud kitchens, and restaurants took to home delivery formats last year, with a vengeance, now the return of the restaurants is bringing in smaller eateries to revise the economics completely. “The lockdown has taught people that unit economics is of utmost importance to survive the future challenges of this nature,” says Kalra. “A lot of restaurants will probably have social distancing in mind from the ground up. Hence, distances between the tables will be permanently increased and there will be different elevations in restaurants to ensure distancing can be maintained. There might be a reduction in the size of bars as well.”
While many of our favourite restaurants have folded up, those reinventing to stay in the game are blurring boundaries and taking to innovation. “Nimble layouts are the new format at eateries to ensure strict two-metre social distancing norms,” shares Asha Sairam, Principal, Studio Lotus. “An effective layout, with correctly mapped distances from the dining spaces to the washrooms, will determine the efficacy of the décor. While accommodating all necessary protocols, I reckon the layout would effectively allow for seating roughly 30 per cent of the capacity that the eatery is meant to serve. Restaurants will need to look beyond stopgap solutions, and that may well extend beyond simply their design and layout.”