In cities all over the country, streets and sidewalks have become outdoor dining rooms, providing a welcome break from the realities of quarantine. But what happens to restaurants when the seasons change to fall and winter? In many areas of the country—including Chicago, where our newest architecture studio is based—September and October will usher in colder temperatures. While heaters can extend the season, outdoor dining from December to April would be ill-advised.
So we developed a concept that would not only extend the season outdoors but could also be used indoors, if dining restrictions relax. It’s a pod, housed in a sturdy frame that can withstand changing weather conditions, while also allowing for heating and electrical integration. Pods could be connected for larger parties, and technology could be incorporated to allow for easy sanitization, temperature control and airflow, and more. A notification light could help customers communicate with staff about their privacy and service preferences. Here are four different versions for four different scenarios:
A date pod would have built-in tables and decorative lighting to create a romantic mood. A walk-up bar would have partitions to separate customers and provide a layer of protection for the bartender, too. A lounge pod would make space for small groups that want to celebrate together. And a “camper” pod would feature a retractable roof for open-air dining on warmer days.
We came up with the ideas after reaching out to restaurateurs to understand the unique challenges they’re facing. Many chefs are able to create menus that can be easily transported and reheated, but carryout is not a profitable long-term solution. Indoor dining during a pandemic poses its own problems. Restaurants have had to reduce their capacity to comply with social distancing, which cuts into their revenue and diminshes the guest experience. Outdoor dining has offset some of these challenges—but it can’t last forever.
Our team started to dig into potential solutions. Amber MacCracken is an expert in food and beverage design. She worked with designer Brad Pokrzewinski-Cruise and design principal Trina Sandschafer. We looked to areas of recreation that were faring well; private aviation, full-service bungalows, and campers are all having a moment. Pandemic or not, people want an opportunity to escape, to celebrate special moments and spend time with loved ones.
The pods you see here are a work in progress. They’re devised to create a sense of fun, celebration, and even a little romance. And while they’re far from an immediate fix, we hope that they, at minimum, spark conversation and collaboration. (We’ve already started working with a group of local fabricators.) The restaurant community, which has been so heavily impacted by the effects of COVID-19, deserves our creative solutions.
Kelli Zaremba is business development leader at the Chicago office of Kahler Slater.