Hospitality in inhospitable times

As lockdown continues to ease we took the opportunity to speak with Rachel Withey, Associate Director, SpaceInvader to ask about the considerations for reopening hospitality businesses and we share product solutions to some of Rachel’s points. 

With hospitality venues set to re-open next month, the challenges for operators remain numerous. How to enact 2-metre social distancing rules and make customers feel safe, for example? And how to function profitably – especially for restaurants, where guidelines will mean severely-reduced covers? Whilst there are practical responses to some of these spatial issues – as well as hints that a relaxation of the 2-metre rule might come soon – what to do about the central tension between the warm welcome traditionally promised by hospitality venues and the potentially sterile and clinical look these new measures might result in? No one wants a dining experience that feels like an outpatient appointment!

For the already fragile hospitality industry, the re-emergence into an unsteady economic environment means operators need to remain fluid at all times and open to adaptation. As designers, we need to be thinking bilaterally about design recommendations that are creative and safe to help operators bridge the gap. There are certainly plenty of safety-inspired products already where form clearly follows function, but in an industry where aesthetic experience is so vital, we have to do better than simply using the plain plastic partitions being recommended for, say, the workplace sector.

How might things look when the doors re-open? A customer preference for fresh, non-recycled air will certainly herald a flourishing of outdoor dining over the summer months, with operators looked to repurpose under-used external space. Technology will hold the key to low-visibility change too, from customer pre-ordering and staggered arrivals to QR-coded menus and card-at-table payment only. Common-use items, such as cutlery dispensers and salt and pepper shakers, will disappear, as will at-bar or buffet service. The integration of subtle floor graphics will help direct circulation and remind staff and diners instinctively of recommended distances. Less visible innovations should include the integration of materials capable of being robustly cleaned, preferably with inherent anti-bacterial or even antiviral properties. These materials are not a new thing – in fact, as far back as ancient Egypt, fabrics and nature have been fused together for their antibacterial properties – though in today’s world, their use has mostly been associated with care homes or hospitals. We’re looking to manufacturers to release products with these properties but also with an aesthetic that enables designers and operators to create fantastic spaces with imaginative flair.

Communication will also be key, so customers know in advance what steps operators have taken, what to expect from venues and what might be expected of them. Brand-led graphic solutions, including quirky and fun applications for anything to do with cleaning and sanitising, should be seen as creative opportunities here.

The comfort and safety of guests will remain paramount, but it will be great to see operators, designers and manufacturers rising to the occasion and creating thoughtful, beautiful and witty pathways through these challenges, re-affirming this great industry’s ability to entice and entertain customers and promise intimate, fun and safe experiences with the focus once again where it should be – on great atmosphere and knock-out F&B.


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Coronavirus has caused global turmoil and placed new emphasis on issues of hygiene and sanitation. While it’s impossible to apply social distancing to the furniture we sit on, Camira Fabrics are doing what they can to make our upholstery as safe and as easy to clean as possible when it comes to infection control.


Amtico has created a range of specialist floor designs in response to the demand for social distancing and wayfinding solutions, following the latest Coronavirus guidance and easing of restrictions in certain spaces. The planks and tiles can be easily slotted into existing Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) flooring, or incorporated as part of a new scheme.

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About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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