Asian food chain Wagamama has looked to classical Japanese interior design to solve the conundrum of opening under Covid-19 constraints, introducing sliding screens to keep diners safe while maintaining an enjoyable atmosphere.
The sliding screens, based on shoji partitions, sit on tiny rollers and can be moved up and down the full length of the benches, discretely separating parties of guests from one another. The tweak makes a feature of its iconic benches.
“Sliding screens are at the very heart of the Japanese architectural aesthetic,” says Design Director Mark Standing. “They have been used for hundreds of years to divide spaces in buildings and rooms. I took my inspiration for the design of screen dividers for our long sharing tables and benches from this tradition”.
Sliding screens are at the very heart of the Japanese architectural aesthetic…
Wagamama will reopen four trial sites this weekend to test the safety and efficiency of the designs.
The first restaurant to open will be at the Royal Festival Hall in central London on July 4, promising ‘a wide variety of innovative ideas to keep customers and team members safe.’ Three more restaurants will follow at the Trafford Centre, Stevenage and Swindon, which open from July 6.
Other measures the restaurant is taking to ensure guests stay safe ‘the wagamama way’ include social distance queueing and disposable menus on placemats. The restaurant will also now be cashless, providing a simple pay on phone mechanic at the end of the meal which minimises staff contact, and complies to the government’s request of taking the name and phone number of at least one person in the group visiting the restaurant.
If these precautions prove successful, wagamama plans to have 18 restaurants open by the end of July, with all restaurants open by early September.
The return to dine-in has been guided by a survey of wagamama customers, who insisted that the restaurant maintain its characteristic benches.
“The main question we have been working on as a team is how can our guests feel safe but still have a communal wagamama experience, sitting on our benches,” says CEO Emma Wood. “The team has applied our philosophy of kaizen, good change, to this challenge and I am delighted we have found a design solution which provides social distancing for our guests in a way which is true to the design ethos of the brand.”