For Socially Distanced Dining, This Virginia Inn Is Filling Empty Tables with Mid-Century Mannequins

Annie Goldsmith
Photo credit: Courtesy the Inn at Little Washington

From House Beautiful

The coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants to rethink their seating arrangements, as social distancing requires some tables be left empty. The Inn at Little Washington is presenting a rather innovative solution to fill their half-empty restaurant: mannequin-laden tables.

In the Washington, Virginia restaurant, each empty table will provide the setting for a different scene, from a proposal to a business meeting. All of the mannequins (yes, life-sized dolls) will also be dressed in 1940s attire, complete with era-appropriate hair and makeup. The waiters will even be instructed to pour wine for the inanimate guests. Chef and proprietor Patrick O'Connell, a James Beard award-winner, is conceptualizing these intricate scenes to comply with capacity regulations, implemented in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo credit: Courtesy the Inn at Little Washington

The Inn is working with two local businesses to stage the tables. For authenticity, Signature Theatre, a Tony-award winning non-profit professional theater company, will help create the scenes and Design Foundry, team of carpenters, painters, designers, fabricators, will facilitate construction.

The mannequin-filled reopening also comes alongside a new menu. O'Connell is still working out the details, but we know it will feature the restaurant's signature whimsy. Even before the mannequins, the Inn was known for its irreverent take on dining, from its cheese specialist with a mooing cow cart, speaking exclusively in puns, to the dining room dress code: no wet bikinis.

Photo credit: Courtesy the Inn at Little Washington

The Inn's mid-century mannequin scenes are one way restaurants are working to comply with new social distancing regulations, as reopening nears. In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam is beginning reopening this week, though not in the areas closest to Washington, D.C. The Inn at Little Washington is accepting reservations beginning May 29.

Part of Northam's reopening regulations requires a 50 percent capacity limit in all restaurants, leaving owners to figure out what to do with their empty space. Whether it's just spreading out tables, or creating theater-worthy inanimate scenery, we can't wait to see what restauranteurs cook up.

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