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Life after COVID : Impact on Design

Wednesday, June 17, 2020, 16:00 Hrs  [IST]
Asmita Mukherjee | Hyderabad


COVID-19 has ushered in a period of great difficulty for the hospitality and restaurant industry. It has forced patrons to focus more on sanitation and social distancing instead of the ambience of the hotel or the taste of food in the restaurant. In keeping up with the current times, both restaurants and hotels are evaluating their design and structure for the safety of their guests and staff. Implementing contactless ordering and payment systems, and increasing distance between seats, are some of the steps being adopted by the industry to create a safe environment for their patrons. Asmita Mukherjee delves deeper into the design changes being implemented by the hospitality and restaurant industry by speaking with experts.   

The changing face of restaurants

This pandemic has been a true wakeup call and will radically transform the notion of all existing physical spaces, including but not limited to, our restaurants. India now stands at a global precipice and is open to fresh outlooks, collaborative thinking, and renewed approach towards projects. Building on home-grown ideas, and taking inspiration from the prevailing worldwide design trends, the restaurant designs that will come forth post COVID should be unique, technologically sound, and sensitive to the environment and context. According to the designers, there will also be a significant change in the layout of the restaurants, with a focus on limited social interaction between the patrons, the chefs and the attendants. “Our spaces will have to adapt, by minimizing any excess and creating convenient multifunctional spaces with easy sterilization, minimal exposed surfaces, clean lines, hygienic surface treatments, and more automation with touch-less technology like automatic doors, motion-sensing lights and temperature controls. We need to reimagine our restaurants to create more inclusive, conscious, and experimental designs, with a stronger focus on adding a tactile, humane touch to our increasingly digital interactions,” said Architect Deepak Kalra, Partner and Director at Ravish Mehra Deepak Kalra.

Kalra mentioned that a change in the lifestyle and approach will restrict crowding, but doesn’t necessarily have to mean an overall decline in the number of patrons. According to him, “Clever spatial planning, with measures like fixed time slots, unique drive-in dining experiences, indulgent open kitchen experiences and multi-sensory home dining, might ensure a new way of business continuity. In combination with proper sanitization, AI augmentation and digitally supported services, the restaurants that we know today, might easily evolve into a new typology of business, which provides a delicate balance in the sense of social bonding, and essential hygienic practices.”

RMDK_Deepak Kalra.jpg

While emphasising on the importance of technology in the post COVID era, Kalra said, “QR code ordering, digital menus, and contactless payment might become a permanent feature, while the trends might vary from localized sanitation, shielded partitions, recyclable partitions, self-isolating restaurants, greenhouse restaurants, bring your own protective gear guidelines, regulated plaza restaurants, and physical restaurants.”
Hotel Design Evolution

 New social distancing norms have already been established to counter the spread of COVID, by restricting and minimising any contact between people. The planning and design of public areas and facilities would be considerably affected due to this new normal. Hospitality design will be transformed significantly due to these social distancing requirements.
 According to Architect Ravish Mehra, Partner and Director at Ravish Mehra Deepak Kalra, entry and exit points might be completely segregated with a provision of disinfecting UV Vestibules (Tunnels) as an integral part of the design, rather than retrofitting it, as currently seen in existing buildings and spaces. Space dimensions, as well as, volumes of entry/exit, reception, foyers, lobbies, lounges, public toilets, elevators, staircases, restaurants and banquets will need to be scaled up as per occupancy levels and expanded to provide for adequate social distancing between visitors and staff to ensure minimum human to human contact.

RMDK_Ravish Mehra.jpg

Self-check-in and check-out, as well as, contactless payments will alter the reception areas, while self-service F&B and buffet will also become a standard practice through the use of touch-free screens, scanners etc. Most points of egress and service areas including toilets will also become automatic sensor-based,” he added.

Mehra also forecasted that minimal use of materials and surfaces susceptible to COVID sustenance and prolonged active exposure will become a standard practice in interior design. Thus, any material palette like wood, glass, metal, stone, or synthetic materials like laminates, plastics, abs etc. will be finalized after due diligence regarding the location and frequency of use of the area or product, as well as, the life and active mode of COVID on the surface.

While speaking about the design of high contamination areas like health clubs, salons, and swimming pools, Mehra commented, “Design standards and guidelines will need to be revisited, modified, established and adapted in terms of space requirements, points of egress, selection of surfaces and materials, maintenance procedures, etc. Health check and verification of fitness of a visitor, as well as, staff will be necessary and monitored before allowing admittance, resulting in the creation of additional vestibules and foyers, before the actual user environment. Disinfecting areas and UV Tunnels can also be inbuilt into these planned spaces. A provision for frequent washing/cleaning/disinfection for visitors, as well as, workers will be created. The scale of areas will also need to be enhanced, as the wider spacing between equipment and seating will be required among users, as well as, staff. HVAC systems will also need to be redesigned with better monitoring, and control of temperature, humidity, and infusion of fresh air, through natural means like openings or TFA (Treated Fresh Air) equipment. Most surfaces like floors, walls, ceilings, furniture and equipment will need to be more maintenance-friendly to facilitate ease of cleaning, and disinfection, as often as, required.”

“The surface adopted will also need to be not liable to damage from the use of disinfecting chemicals, as such activities can become a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the future. Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Fungal coatings and paint already exist and are extensively utilised in the health care industry. However, the effectiveness of the same needs to be tested against the virus. New compositions can be created through research if required, and can be used against this virus after lab and field testing,” he added.

Accepting that the adoption of COVID protective designs in hospitality are still in a nascent stage, Mehra commented, “Design standards and practice for space planning, systems and services are still being established after the thorough study of the behaviour of the virus. Hospitality designs that are still in the planning stage will adapt to the norms and standards, once established. Some of the projects that are being designed will conform to these norms and those already existing will be redesigned, altered, and retrofitted as per requirements”. 

Measures taken by hoteliers and restaurateurs 

The outbreak of COVID-19 has made social distancing and hygiene a part of the new normal and will be an integral part of future holidaying, as well. Speaking about the social distancing norms and demand post-COVID, Ramesh Ramanathan, Chairman and Managing Director, Sterling Holiday Resorts, said, “Resorts by definition are spread-out, they are not vertical structures, unlike most hotels. It’s a huge strength, considering the strict social distancing norms that one has to practice in the new normal. Resorts are designed on a larger land parcel, and multiple rooms and facilities/amenities are situated at a substantial distance from one another. There are multiple venue locations offered by resorts to carry out different activities. Because of all these characteristics, maintaining social distancing at resorts is a common occurrence and even easier, in comparison to hotels. We believe resorts would not have to make apex investments to undergo structural changes by large. However, hygiene and sanitisation protocols will have to be thoroughly adhered to, for all guests and staff members. Considering the layout of hotels, they may have to temporarily close out certain operations to effectively manage guests and maintain social distancing at this point in time. As a part of the safety and hygiene protocol, the table layout of restaurants will be done as per social distancing norms. Multiple meal sessions with a guest reservation will be organised to avoid crowding along with facilities of contactless takeaway and mini-buffets. High-contact areas will be sanitized every 2 hours. We see demand coming back post lockdown, at resorts which are at a drivable distance.”

Mentioning the fact that health clubs, salons, swimming pools within the hotel or resorts are known as high contamination areas, Ramanathan said, “Health clubs, spas, swimming pools at hotels will be temporarily suspended, as irrespective of all the structural alterations that properties undergo, the current pandemic is contagious and easily transferable from human-to-human, if the hygiene and sanitisation protocols are not followed in those areas. Also, this pandemic is an impermanent phenomenon; in the near future once a suitable vaccine is introduced, we can expect things to move towards normalcy.”
Ramesh Ramanathan,Chairman and Managing Director of Sterling Holiday Resorts.jpg

Stating that technology will play an important role in the post-COVID world, he said, “There is no doubt that services and offerings will give rise to technology-led innovations while catering to the needs of the guests. We have already started noticing, QR code ordering, bubble shields, plastic shields and glass shields being adopted by hotels, restaurants, bars, and pubs around the world. The adoption intensity of technology-driven hygiene and sanitisation measures at restaurants and hotels will depend on their budget, demand, strategies, etc. People are going to select their hotels and resorts differently going forward. People will only be willing to stay at a space, which promises them extremely sterile and sanitised surroundings. Travellers will be attentive and will demand transparency in understanding the standards of sanitation is maintained.

Akanksha Chaudhary.jpg

Restaurateurs are also thinking about exiting from malls, as the rents are quite high, while comparatively, the footfalls will be considerably lower than the past in the current scenario. Most restaurants are increasing focus on food-delivery/takeaways, while at the same time reducing their dependency on dine-in revenue. Speaking on the same, Akanksha Chaudhary, Assistant Director - Sales & Marketing, JSM Corporation, which handles international brands like Hard Rock Café, California Pizza Kitchen, and others in India said, “We will strongly focus on delivery in the near future, while we slowly build dine-in strategies in sync with market sentiment.” 

Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Embassy Leisure.jpg

According to most experts, one of the critical elements of restaurant design in the current scenario will be the seating arrangement. Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Embassy Leisure shared his insight by saying, “The reduction in seating capacity will vary depending on the sheer size of the restaurant. What will, however, remain common is adherence to the distancing rules that provide comfort to guests.” It is vital for restaurants to reinvent themselves, and implement changes which adhere to safety guidelines, as well as, reassure guests and employees.

Impact of design changes

Due to the growing awareness of social-distancing, it is estimated that the number of diners will decline across restaurants, bars, pubs, and other venues. The loss percentage of restaurants due to social distancing is one of the critical factors which has become a pain point for the industry. Nandivardhan Jain, CEO, Noesis Capital Advisors said, “Unit-level operations team need to adapt to these new realities. Budget and mid-scale hotels typically have only one all-day dining restaurant, which largely caters to the in-house guest. Restaurant contribution to overall hotel revenue is in single-digit, as breakfast is usually complimentary and in business hotels, lunch business is quite limited. So the impact on F&B business in these categories of hotels will be very limited. Redesigning of restaurants to maintain social distancing will have a serious impact in the case of upscale and luxury hotels, where restaurants contribute significantly to the hotel top-line. In the short-run, demand will be sluggish due to COVID 19. The marketing teams need to work hard to restore guest confidence. To compensate the revenues, restaurants of hotels need to explore new avenues of revenues like home delivery, outdoor catering services, and cookery classes by chefs at odd hours.”

Nandivardhan Jain, CEO, Noesis Capital Advisors.jpg

Jain also stated that “Casual dining restaurants will be largely impacted as the spacing between tables is limited, and due to high real estate cost, the number of chairs is maxed out. In these restaurants, redesigning will drop down the seating plan by 40%. In fine dining restaurants, table spacing is comparatively better, and due to redesigning there will be a reduction in seats by 20%. This reduction in seat count will have a direct impact on restaurant revenue potential.”

As an industry expert, Jain predicted, “We will witness a reduction in rentals and trend will move from fixed rentals to variable rental/revenue share. Hotel F&B business has a significant fixed cost such as staff salary, electricity, property tax, insurance and you need to achieve a minimum threshold level of revenue to cover up your operating expenses. In India, banks extend short term debt at a high cost of interest. In current market conditions and for the next 6 months, we will see a contraction in demand. Due to which, hotel restaurants need to rework on the entire business model.

According to Jain, it will be a challenging time until November 2020 and recovery will be gradual. “These challenges are for the next 3 to 4 quarters only, which is sufficient time for the society to learn to co-exist with COVID 19. In the long run, India's consumption story is intact, as we are a country of 1.35 billion and one of the youngest nations,” he added.

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