Reimagining Restaurants: Working to Make Customers More Comfortable Despite Restrictions

Dining out will be different after eateries reopen, but restaurant owners are trying to figure out how to create a pleasant experience for returning patrons

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As Massachusetts restaurant head toward reopening, owners are reimagining how dining will look during the pandemic.

They know restrictions will make their spaces look different, but they still want to make sure their customers feel comfortable.

To help with the task, Sam Kanter of Sam Kanter Events is now offering what she calls "COVID Consulting." Her goal is to help restaurant owners adhere to new guidelines with creative solutions that do not sacrifice hospitality.

"Normally, I'm trying to figure out how to fit as many people as possible into a space and make them feel comfortable," Kanter said. "Now, I'm trying to make them comfortable with less people."

Knowing capacity limits will be coming for restaurants, Kanter is doing site visits now. She said there is much more they can do than put mannequins in empty seats, which some restaurants around the country have already done.

"We can determine if barriers are the route to go or if there are other items we can bring, like plants and florals, that will make people feel comfortable in the space, Kanter said.

She is also partnering with PEAK Event Services, which is offering a number of tent rentals for restaurant owners looking to expand their outdoor dining.

"There's been a lot of volume, a lot of inquiries, a lot of people chomping at the bit to get to the next phase," director of tent sales Tarryn Prosper said.

Thursday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the "Healthy Streets" plan to help create new space for outdoor seating at restaurants.

Kanter is already working on redesigned floor plans for Il Casale and The Wellington in Belmont. Dante de Magistris, who co-owns the restaurants, said they are trying to think of everything.

"We're going to do things like have artists put some paint on plexiglass just to make it a little more interesting," de Magistris said.

Restaurant owners, including de Magistris, said they are anxiously waiting for the state to put out industry-specific guidelines for them. All they know right now is that they will be able to reopen with restrictions under phase two, which will start on June 8 at the earliest.

Kanter said it is not just about bringing people back to the table, it is about making them feel welcome no matter what kind of social distancing is required to happen around it.

"That's the goal. We want to be safe and we want to be happy when we're at these restaurants," she said.

As restaurants around the world look for ways to safely reopen, some restaurants in France are experimenting with plastic domes to help keep restaurant workers and diners healthy.
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