Through the nationwide lockdown, induced by the covid-19 pandemic, one wondered about what the restaurants of the future would look like. Would there be far fetched ideas such as having robots as servers and ushers? Or would you have small pods of dining spaces, located at a safe distance from one another, nestled within outdoor environs? Restaurateurs, now back to business, are already working with architects on new designs that incorporate learnings from the ongoing pandemic. One of the first in the series is Dwarka Social, the latest offering by Riyaaz Amlani’s Impresario Handmade Restaurants in Delhi, which is considered a covid-response ready eatery. The outlet was to open up earlier this year but got delayed due to the pandemic. “I had been thinking of a shophouse kind of concept,” says Amlani.
This idea, inspired by the streets and alleyway shops of Vietnam and the lattice arrangement of Dwarka’s numerous sectors, seems to incorporate the safe distancing norms naturally into the design. “We had time to build up on it due to the lag afforded by the lockdown. One has to think differently for the new normal, and we have tried to do that,” he explains. So, one can now see partitions between the dining spaces to maintain a physical distance. The booths have been split across levels, with enclosed spaces stacked on top of each other, resembling the ‘pay and stay’ housing structures of Ho Chi Minh city, while creating separation and barriers at every stage. “We play with height. People have their own zones. There is a six feet distance between the various partitions. So, you will see little pods of spaces distributed across the eatery,” says Sanchit Arora of Renesa Architects, who has designed the outlet.
The booths resemble small shops and parlours from across Vietnam. According to Arora, the minute you enter the clock shop booth or the medicine store section, you automatically get physically distant from the other diners. There are bamboo structures every six feet, and the partitions are moveable, lending a flexible feeling to the space. “Say, if a team wants to work on a community table, you can close the moveable partition. These blinds and partitions can be opened and closed as per the needs of the patrons. The DJ area is located at a higher level,” elaborates Arora. The idea is to embed the safety measures in the design so that they don’t seem innocuous or in your face. As Amlani says, there is a difference between hospitality and the hospital. “You are safe while being part of a fun space. Also, the architecture is valid both during the pandemic and a post-covid world,” he adds.
Having little pods of spaces within their own ecosystems seems to be the way forward for most restaurant designs. And partitions are the element of choice, making the diners feel psychologically safer . “However, you have to make sure that it is not just an acrylic sheet separating the seating area. The design of the partitions has to be well thought out and in sync with the overall architecture of the space,” says Abhigyan Neogi, principal architect and founder, Chromed Design Studio, which has worked on restaurants such as AER DIFC, Dubai, Innov8 and Pra Pra Prank at Cyberhub Gurgaon, Kampai in Aerocity, Delhi, and more, in the past. Besides partitions, other new design elements have also made an appearance, be it mask dispensers, as seen at W GOa, or sanitiser and moisturiser stations. Also, restaurants have become conscious of the kind of materials they are using in the furniture. “There is concern about having cleanable surfaces, which can be sanitised easily,” says Neogi, who is incorporating several innovations in new F&B projects.
Rajiv Parekh, founding partner, ReD Architects concurs, while adding that the “experience” of being in a restaurant shouldn’t diminish. “There is a basic human need to interact, to see and be seen,” he says. “Diners might not always be engaged in conversation with each other, but they want the vibe. The idea is to keep the energy intact.” So, architects are now looking at the latest technology to come up with screen mechanisms. The number of air circulation vents have increased to transfer a large part of the viral load. “One is thinking of ways to induce more fresh air into the space,” says Parekh, who has worked on a project in Bandra, where the outdoor and indoor spaces flow into each other seamlessly through the use of shutters and screen, thus bringing an influx of fresh air. The firm is also suggesting that eateries display the rate at which air is being circulated.
He further adds that now there is nanotechnology available, which allows for sprays to disinfect surfaces, while also protecting leather and fabric to an extent. “It is certified for 3 to 6 months, depending on how deep the treatment is. Such things give the user the comfort that the restaurant has done things systematically and methodically to take care of your wellbeing. It is important to build faith,” he says.