Dinner with dummies: US eatery fills empty seats with mannequins

By: Agence France Presse - Inquirer.net | May 16,2020 - 10:20 AM

WASHINGTON, VIRGINIA – MAY 14: Mannequins costumed in 1940s era clothing are seated in the dining area of the Inn at Little Washington, a Michelin three-star restaurant in the Virginia countryside, in Rappahannock County May 14, 2020, in Washington, Virginia. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth of Virginia will allow restaurants to reopen at only 50 percent capacity to maintain social distancing. However, the chef at the restaurant, Patrick OConnell, plans to keep the mannequins in place when the business reopens on May 29 rather than let the tables sit vacant when diners return. Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP

WASHINGTON, VIRGINIA — Their eyes are vacant, their smiles uncanny — but they’re dressed to the nines and they don’t need a reservation for some of America’s finest dining.

A Michelin-starred restaurant in the US state of Virginia has found a fun — or creepy, depending on your tastes — way to enforce social distancing when it reopens at the end of May: costumed mannequins seated among the breathing guests.

“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,” says chef Patrick O’Connell, owner of The Inn at Little Washington, in an e-mail to AFP.

“This would allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops,” he adds.

The Inn, which says it is “known for being reverently irreverent” and which also happens to be the only restaurant with three Michelin stars in the Washington, DC area, is scheduled to reopen May 29.

The theatrical, life-sized mannequins are dressed to evoke the post-war ambiance of the 1940s, with pearl necklaces, checkered dresses, and striped suits.

The glamor needs to suit the rest of the Inn, whose sprawling grounds are distinguished by features such as a chicken coop complete with crystal chandelier, and where a tasting menu can cost each guest $248 before wine.

The Inn has collaborated with local businesses to provide the staging, costumes and make-up for the mannequins, strategically placed at tables which must remain empty.

“We’re all craving to gather and see other people right now. They don’t all necessarily need to be real people,” O’Connell mischievously points out.

“I’ve always had a thing for mannequins — they never complain about anything and you can have lots of fun dressing them up,” he adds.

Unlike the real guests.


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