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These 6 restaurants around the world have found creative ways to enforce social distancing

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

As the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, restaurants and bars were the first targets for closure. But with stay-at-home orders expiring in many states and economies across the world beginning the early stages of reopening, restaurants and bars also have begun the process of restarting dine-in operations.

Keeping disease prevention in mind, establishments are getting creative with the use of barriers, props and other objects to enforce social distancing and make their dining spaces seem more lively.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends safety measures for diners such as frequent hand-washing and face coverings in public spaces, many restaurants have taken extra steps to help keep their employees and visitors safe. Here are some of our favorites from around the world.

Mannequins, shower curtains, carhops and pulleys: Restaurants get creative to keep diners distant

Blow-up dolls at The Open Hearth

The owners of this restaurant in Greenville County, S.C., took a fun and unusual approach to seating capacity guidelines: They filled empty seats with blow-up dolls dressed up to look like fellow diners.

The restaurant has taken the additional health precautions of requiring employees to wear masks and checking temperatures, but one of the owners told a local station that instead of roping off tables, they wanted the establishment to appear full.

“My grandson told me they look kind of creepy,” owner Paula Starr Melehes told WYFF4. “But I think, when people walk in, they’re going to laugh.”

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Mannequins at The Inn at Little Washington

This three-star Michelin restaurant in the D.C. area is preparing for its upcoming opening by filling the dining room with mannequins wearing 1940s-style outfits. The restaurant, known for its theatrics and glamorous environment, wants to make the space feel less empty as guests return to reduced capacity.

A spokesperson told Eater that the performance art project will remain “within the whimsical vein of the Inn’s reverently irreverent approach to hospitality.”

Inner tubes at Fish Tales

Social distancing at this restaurant in Ocean City, Md., will be enforced in a more physical way than inanimate dolls. The restaurant rolled out what it calls the “bumper table” to help guests maintain six feet of distance when it opens.

Diners step into a rolling table surrounded by an inner tube so they can eat, socialize and walk around the space without worrying about getting too close to anyone.

“We wanted to come up with a creative and fun way to keep everyone safe and compliant, but still bring back the social and festive and party aspect of the event,” the inventor of the bumper table, Erin Cermak, told the Baltimore Sun.

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Pool noodles at Cafe Rothe

With Europe preparing for summer tourist season, restaurants have begun opening their doors as restrictions lift in different countries. In Schwerin, Germany, this cafe celebrated its reopening by having guests wear straw hats with colorful pool noodles attached to the top to encourage social distancing.

To ensure compliance among diners, the cafe uses the motto “Keep the social distance,” but even at about half capacity, it was still a learning experience.

“It was a perfect gag and of course it was funny, our customers were really into it. But what it did show to us [was] how difficult it is to keep a distance of 1.5 meters,” owner Jaqueline Rothe told CNN.

Greenhouses at ETEN

The restaurant at Amsterdam’s Mediamatic arts center ushered in a project called Serres Séparées, French for “separate greenhouses,” that allows diners to sit in individual glass enclosures along the Oosterdok marina.

While serving, staff wear plastic face shields and gloves and set meals into the glass boxes by using a long wooden plank.

“We are now learning how to do the cleaning, how to do the service, how to get the empty plates out again in an elegant way, so you still feel taken care of nicely,” Mediamatic’s Willem Velthoven told Reuters.

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Cardboard cutouts at Five Dock Dining

In Sydney, this modern Italian restaurant deployed a low-tech strategy to help the dining room appear fuller. Cardboard cutouts of customers have been placed in random seats around the restaurant, and a background noise plays that emulates the din of a crowded restaurant. Only 10 diners are allowed at a time since restrictions were eased in mid-May, but the owner has taken reopening in stride.

“The cutouts and background noise are a bit eerie when you first walk in,” owner Frank Angeletta told 7News. “But once you’re sitting down, it’s a bit of fun.”

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