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Robots, lampshades and mannequins: How restaurants around the world are adapting to the coronavirus

A man and a woman dine under plastic shields in Paris on May 27. (Thibault Camus/AP)
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Masks. Gloves. Partitions. Socially distanced lines. Hand sanitizer.

As countries around the world begin to emerge from the lockdowns that marked the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants — at least the ones that have survived — are taking steps to lure customers back.

On Tuesday, cafes in Paris opened their outdoor terraces, after nearly three months closed, with tables a meter apart. In the rest of the country, restaurants reopened fully. In many countries that put in place strict measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, similar steps are underway.

But in some cases, a return to business does not look like a return to the way things were.

Here are five ways restaurants around the world have adapted to life under the coronavirus.

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See-through shields

Plastic or plexiglass partitions positioned to divide diners are popping up across Asia. Restaurants in Europe are following suit.

One restaurant in France is even trying to attract diners with lampshade-like plastic coverings, which are also a novelty in themselves. Mathieu Manzoni, the director of the Parisian restaurant, H.A.N.D., told the Associated Press that the shields offered a “pretty, more poetic” option for virus-weary customers. The designer of Plex’Eat, as the plastic bubbles hanging from the ceiling are called, told the AP he was inspired by pods he saw in a store in Thailand.


Mannequins can serve as a way to keep people seated far apart without the space looking eerily empty. These are not the scary lifelike dolls of horror movies — or so restaurateurs hope.

One restaurant in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has dressed its mannequins in the work of local fashion designers. “We want to fill the space with fun things,” the owner, Patrikas Ribas, told the AP.

Stuffed animals

Other restaurants are turning to stuffed animals. Teddy bears in particular appear to be a popular prop for keeping customers at a distance while maintaining levity.

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QR Codes

The era of dirty, worn-in menus may be coming to a close. Restaurants are rethinking all their standard table elements, from the salt and pepper shakers to hot sauce bottles that countless customers might touch.

QR codes are emerging as one alternative to physical menus: With a quick scan, smartphone users can instead digitally access a restaurant’s menu.

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Restaurants in Italy are required to collect customers’ contact information and keep it for a certain period in case they later learn that one of the other diners was infected.

But the approach has a dark side. In some countries, including China, tracking by QR code to fight the virus has expanded government surveillance.


In one Spanish bar, a robot expertly pours a frothy beer.

In a restaurant in southwestern Netherlands, the owners are trying out robots to serve and collect dishes.

In a South Korean cafe, a robot both takes orders and brings drinks to customers.

Entrepreneurs had been experimenting with service industry robots long before the coronavirus hit. But now there’s new hype around these prototypes as ways to decrease human-to-human contact that could spread the virus. The downside, however, is the same as before: the potential loss of jobs, even as unemployment soars.

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