As I scrolled through restaurant news this week, I came across three stories from European cities where restaurants have begun re-opening. First, it’s refreshing to see cities trying to come back to life and observe creative solutions. Second, I got a couple of chuckles, particularly from a story out of Germany, from a couple of silly, yet creative, things coming to fruition. This post will focus on Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Schwerin (a German town). I would love to hear more of these stories, so please comment if you have others to share! I’ll lead off with Copenhagen. …
Copenhagen – noma
Arguably the most famous restaurant in Copenhagen is noma. Beyond Copenhagen, it’s acclaimed as the #2 restaurant in the world. As such, it’s one of those places food enthusiasts undoubtedly have on their “bucket list” (I know I do). Prior to the pandemic, you could expect a 20-course meal that probably runs $300+ a head and an exceptional experience. I’ve never been but I can only imagine that it’s one of those places reserved for special occasions, impossible to get a reservation and definitely not attainable to the masses. However, in the past two months since the restaurant closed for the pandemic, its leader, Rene Redzepi, has transformed part of his fine dining establishment into an outdoor wine and burger bar, set to open on May 21.
While there is probably a faction of people asking the question, “does this dilute noma’s brand?” I think that’s a short-sighted response. To me, this move signals a sentiment of inclusiveness and enables the community to enjoy a piece of something special even in troubling times. I mean, there will even be a veggie burger so the vegetarians can take part! Burgers will be $15, reservations won’t be required and this setup and menu allows for safer outdoor dining, albeit Redzepi will need to manage the inevitable crowds, and an ability to just grab and go. The restaurant’s setting also has the charm of gardens and water views. Who knows how long this casual streak will last, but I hope it’s successful and brings the community together in new and safe ways.
Amsterdam – Mediamatic ETEN
I never heard of this restaurant before this week, but the imagery I saw on my Twitter feed caught my attention. This vegan restaurant in Amsterdam has currently solved for COVID-19 restrictions and complexities by developing individual greenhouses for diners, up to groups of three, to sit in and enjoy their four-course tasting menu. The concept is currently in a limited friends and family trial and won’t go broadly live until later this month or early June, pending approvals.
The image of mini greenhouses overlooking the water is a charming one. You have the ambiance, the restaurant takes care of the distancing concerns, wait staff will be required to wear face shields, gloves and will be carrying long wooden boards to increase the distance between the restaurant staff and diners. My concern would be the deep clean and air purification that I’d imagine has to take place after each group finishes its meal. I’ll be watching from afar to see if the concept gets approved and how the experiment goes! According to articles, reservations through June are completely booked so the public is definitely excited! Keep up the creativity.
Schwerin – Cafe Rothe
I’m not going to lie, this one made me LOL. Picture this — people outside enjoying a meal with a contraption on their head sprouting pool noodles to keep other diners from getting to close. Sounds bizarre, right? But, that’s what Cafe Rothe did for it’s grand re-opening. While quirky and maybe weird, at least the restaurant is making things fun! It also got the job done — diners kept the appropriate distance.
I’m guessing there was a faction that even tried to keep extra distance to ensure they weren’t accidentally swatted in the face with a pool noodle. You can just imagine how that would escalate quickly. Beyond being a gimmick that has now received global attention, I think the owners were also trying to make a point. THIS IS HARD. A restaurant has to be very calculated when it thinks about dining room and outdoor seating design in light of the pandemic. It’s not always easy to see the distance, and humans aren’t always spatially aware, so Cafe Rothe’s solution was to make sure people realized where they were in relation to others.
What I take from these three stories, and there are countless others, is that the whole world truly is grappling with how to re-open businesses safely and still create enjoyable experiences for their customers. Not only do restaurant owners have to think about the viability and profitability of their businesses, but the service they provide is also crucial to social human interaction (and always has been). In some ways, they truly provide a public service for all of us. Those aren’t enviable things to balance and the current situation makes these decisions even more complex, not to mention expensive. However, what I take from these three stories is that there are glimmers of hope, positivity, perseverance, grit and the idea that even thought this will be really tough, everyone is in it together and will hopefully come out the other end strong.
Not all of these ideas will work. Not all of them will be successful. But, they can carve out a path for others to follow and learn from so that we all still have our next great meal for which to look forward.