With pandemic restrictions being lifted in the D.C. region, many restaurants are finding themselves able to operate at full capacity again — but they’re far from guaranteed to see a surge in customers coming through the door.
While some restaurant owners may jump at reverting their dining rooms to the way they looked before the pandemic, many customers aren’t ready to start dining in yet. Those who are may be apprehensive about sitting too close to someone they don’t know.
“From a financial standpoint, the restaurants were trying to get as many seats in as possible because each seat returned revenue to them,” said Griz Dwight, the founder of Grizform Design Architects, a D.C.-based firm that specializes in interior restaurant design.
“Now, if that seat is empty, there’s no revenue coming in off that empty seat, so it makes more sense to put fewer seats in that are going to be full all the time rather than a lot of seats that are mostly empty.”
Dwight expects smart restaurants to redesign their dining rooms in a way that puts diners at ease in subtle and natural ways.
“We’re trying to put in some dividers between tables and booths, do them in a way that they look like they were intended originally, not that plexiglass hung from the ceiling you see at the grocery store,” he said. “We’re adding more booths, adding more nooks and crannies in our spaces, meaning there’s little private areas.”
As long as it’s nice out, you’ll also continue to see places try to maximize their outdoor spaces, whether it’s on the sidewalks in the city or even in parking lots in the suburbs. Many will also continue to put more emphasis on carryout orders than they used to.
Drastic changes, which cost lots of money, will take awhile to implement since so many restaurants have gone so long generating little, if any, revenue.
“They’re optimistic that inside spaces won’t be as empty in the coming months as they have been in the past months,” Dwight said.