Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Let's Talk About the Mannequins

I feel like sometimes as devout consumers of pop culture, we are constantly on alert for signs we might have slipped into an alternate world, being the one person who spots when we have gone too far.  Partly this is just human nature.  Constantly adjusting our sense of normal.  A decade ago finding out major news via the internet seemed impersonal, now it seems expedient.  
So, the internet chuckled greatly at the news that a DC area restaurant has a plan involving mannequins.  
Before we dive in, some notes.  DC and with various variations the surrounding areas are still in stay at home mode.  But obviously, restaurants cannot survive on takeout, and in fact some restaurants are of course quite honestly offering you an experience.  Some restaurants you aren't paying for the food, no matter how delightful, you are paying for tablecloths, napkins, a person to leap forward and refill your water glass before you even begin to get it half empty, mood lighting, and the chance to perhaps witness anything from a proposal to a dramatic breakup. 
This isn't to say I don't have elaborate fantasies about being about to go to a pizza joint again. I do.  But the experience of pizza travels back to my living room pretty well.  I am never going to be upsold to the wine pairing for my multi-course menu via takeout.  
So the point of this is that regardless of your feelings about mannequins, I don't begrudge any restaurant their attempts to imagine what a partially open dining room might look like.  And that includes the ones that fold up and decide to go do something else for a while.  
But, the mannequins.  Virginia, where the restaurant in question is located, has enacted a multi-phase opening plan.  As such, when indoor seating opens back up, restaurants will only be able to open 50% of their seating.  (This is where I note that according to one interview I saw, restaurants generally aim for 80% occupancy to guarantee profitability.  So, yeah.)  Filling tables that are not available to patrons with mannequins is smart. Not because your other guests will be fooled into thinking oh those just look like real people.  But the reality is you know at least one set of patrons is going to ask to change their table.  Restaurant seating is kind of a logic puzzle anyway, trying to get things to turn over steadily but staggered, to keep staff able to provide great service.  Moving one table over in normal times can throw things off.  When there's a pandemic requiring differently spaced seating, one table move can actually create a danger.  
So, having the mannequins in the tables makes it clear.  This table is taken.  I'm sure someone will ask anyway, but it gives the staff a better answer than no, I have to keep that table open.  Now they can tell them it's occupied.