Restaurants across the world have begun to reopen since the Wuhan coronavirus has started to calm down.

I’ve collected a few stories about restaurants going to extreme lengths to follow government restrictions, especially when it comes to social distancing.

Would you wear a pool noodle on a straw hat? Would you eat at a bumper table?

Pool Noodles on Straw Hats

A cafe in Germany has mandated patrons wear a pool noodle to enforce social distancing regulations. No, I am not kidding:

Last Saturday the owners of the Cafe Rothe in Schwerin — a town in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania — were allowed to reopen their doors to visitors after coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

While people enjoyed the company and the weather, the motto at the cafe was: “Keep the social distance.”

Rather than using floor markings and perspex screens to keep people apart, the owners of the cafe distributed straw hats with two colorful swimming noodles attached to the top.

Bumper Tables

Fish Tales in Ocean City, MD, showed off its new bumper tables to force patrons six feet apart from one another:

“It’s like a bumper boat, but it’s actually a table,” owner Shawn Harmon said of the design, which was developed by Revolution Event Design and Production in Baltimore.

A customer will stand in the center of the circular table surrounded by a rubber barrier that keeps them safely separated from other patrons in accordance with social distancing guidelines. The tables sit on wheels that allow them to stay mobile.

Thermal Imaging Camera

In Charlotte, NC, MOA Korean BBQ and Bar owner Sean Kim implemented the requirements of paper menus and social distancing. He also added a thermal imaging camera and screen at the hostess stand:

Kim already installed the camera at his restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina, where every staff member is screened as they continue to do take-out only.

The camera is set to alert customers and employees if their body temperature reads 100.4 degrees or more.

Kim said the idea came from how South Korea is handling the coronavirus pandemic and how the country is reopening.

“In South Korea in public places, it’s mandatory to have these thermal imaging cameras,” he said.

Kim said he will give those with a high temperature “discounted to-go meals or gift certificates.”

Pac-Man Mask

A mask that allows you to eat without removing it. What the hell:

A squeeze of a lever, much like a cyclist operates a handbrake, opens a slot in the front of the mask so that food can pass through.

The process could get messy with ice cream or sauces, but more solid morsels can be gobbled up in a flash a la Pac-Man in the arcade game.

“The mask will be opened mechanically by hand remote or automatically when the fork is coming to the mask,” Asaf Gitelis, vice president of Avtipus Patents and Inventions, said on Monday as he demonstrated the device at its offices near Tel Aviv.

“Then you can eat, enjoy, drink and you take out the fork and it will be closed, and you’re protected against the virus and other people sitting with you.”

Food Lockers

Stratis Morforgen wanted to open his new Brooklyn Dumpling Shop before the pandemic hit.

Morforgen planned the shop to have a “pickup counter and limited seating.” The coronavirus changed everything:

Two weeks into lockdown, however, Morfogen changed almost everything. The shop — now slated to open in July — vows zero human interaction. Instead of a server behind a counter, patrons will be greeted by an 11-foot-high wall of lockers, which will contain orders of steaming hot dumplings.

“When restaurants reopen, nobody is going to be saying, ‘Do you feel like Chinese or Italian tonight?’” Morfogen told Side Dish. “It will be, ‘Where do you feel safest?’”

The front of the shop will be staffed by a single greeter wearing a face covering and gloves, of course, who will beckon customers through a device that’s able to scan body temperatures.

If a patron draws a red light instead of a green one, it could mean they have a fever — or perhaps that they were holding a cup of hot coffee. For a final verdict, the greeter leads the customer to a wall unit that takes wrist temperatures. If the second reading lands in the red zone, sorry, no dumplings, according to Morfogen.

Only two customers will be allowed into the shop at a time (versus a planned capacity of 10 for the earlier design). Once inside, customers who haven’t already ordered from their phones can visit one of two wiped-down self-ordering kiosks.

The kiosks are equipped with heat-sensing screens that can detect fingers and credit cards hovering above them and which don’t need to be touched. Once finished waving their fingers and credit card over them, customers finally come face-to-face with the wall of lockers.

Robot Waiter?

Macco Robotics wants to help the restaurant industry with its DBot:

The “D” in Dbot actually does double duty in this case, as it stands for “disinfect” and “delivery” (duh). The main part of the Dbot is a mobile base on wheels that uses lidar and computer vision to autonomously map out and navigate around the inside of a restaurant. Different modules can be attached to the top of the base, such as a sprayer, which mists out disinfectant, and a tray module for carrying food and drinks to tables.

This means a restaurant could spend its open hours shuttling food to customers without human servers (reducing a vector of transmission), and then turn into a sprayer at the end of the day. (Macco said that the robot can also be controlled manually, should a location require disinfecting in hard-to-reach places.)

It is this modularity, according to Macco Robotics’ CTO Kishhanth Renganathan, that will make Dbot stand out in what is becoming the quickly commoditized space of restaurant server robots. “It’s not just a delivery bot,” Renganathan said to me over the phone this week, “You are just buying one robot for two different applications.”


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