A world-renowned Virginia restaurant has come up with a creative way to maintain a bustling atmosphere in the era of social distancing.
The Inn at Little Washington ― which is about 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains ― plans to welcome customers back to its dining room on May 29.
In accordance with Virginia’s guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the restaurant will initially be operating at 50% capacity. But guests won’t have to worry about feeling isolated, as chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell will be seating mannequins in period garb to fill in the empty tables.
“I’ve always had a thing for mannequins ― they never complain about anything and you can have lots of fun dressing them up,” O’Connell told HuffPost via email. “When we needed to solve the problem of social distancing and reducing our restaurant’s occupancy by half, the solution seemed obvious ― fill it with interestingly dressed dummies.”
Noting that the installation will encourage “plenty of space between real guests” as well as offer some cheeky photo ops, he added, “We’re all craving to gather and see other people right now. They don’t all necessarily need to be real people.”
To create the display, O’Connell is collaborating with Virginia’s Signature Theatre and Maryland’s Design Foundry, a custom event design firm.
Though many of the specifics are being worked out, Signature Theatre’s managing director Maggie Boland said she and the team will dress the mannequins in 1940s-style costumes, wigs and makeup to lend the restaurant a “post-war party” vibe.
The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has proven to be financially catastrophic for restaurants across the country. Many family-owned eateries have announced permanent closures as their municipalities set plans to emerge from monthslong lockdowns in Virginia and other states.
The Inn at Little Washington, however, appears confident that its on-site restaurant will make a comeback. Not only is the dining room on the grounds of a historic inn, but in 2018 it also earned a third Michelin star in recognition of “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey.”
O’Connell, meanwhile, is the recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Humanities Medal. This spring, he was featured in PBS’s “The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious Documentary.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued a stay-at-home order for residents on March 30 as concerns over COVID-19 escalated, at which point restaurants transitioned to takeout and delivery service only. He said this week that he believes his state is on track to begin the first phase of its reopening Friday.
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