A French designer looking to put a little glamour back into dining experiences in the age of COVID-19 has come up with a new restaurant innovation.
Christophe Gernigon, a Paris-based designer who creates contemporary furniture, said the idea came to him while he was at home during the worst phase of the pandemic.
"One evening, I watched a report on the closure of restaurants," Gernigon, who spoke with TODAY through a translator, said. "Worried by their situation, I searched for 'restaurant distance covid' on the internet and I came across images of partitions that resembled prison visiting rooms, (but) thinking about going a space resembling a prison, I thought, 'No thanks!'"
He created a few different sketches and the final result was a design Gernigon calls "Plex'Eat," a plexiglass structure that hangs from the ceiling and shields diners, either individually or in pairs.
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Gernigon said he wanted to make something that was both pleasing to the eye and would also allow restaurants to maximize their capacity under new social-distancing guidelines.
"My big concern was that my concept was easy (for restaurateurs and clients) and that the aesthetics were (there)," he said. "The priority was, above all, that restaurateurs would be able to increase their reception capacity while respecting health regulations."
Designed to be easy to clean and move, the plexiglass structures are backless for easy access, but provide a shield between diners, employees and others.
“Design’s role is to give a new spark to our everyday lives. When I saw proposals to place plexiglas dividers on restaurant tables ... I told myself that I had to imagine a more beautiful, attractive, poetic, elegant object that offers a unique experience," Gernigon said in a press release. "Even if we don’t want to remain indefinitely under a bell jar, the Plex’Eat protective bubbles I invented will let restaurants open rapidly in total security."
In previous interviews, health experts have told TODAY that when proper sanitation methods are observed, plexiglass dividers can be an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public spaces like restaurants.
Gernigon told TODAY that once he posted the concept online, he was contacted by several manufacturers. He has since paired up with one of them to produce a prototype.
"By trying the prototype, we (realized) that the bubble concentrated the odors and that we were also in an olfactory experience," Gernigon said of the device's ability to potentially enhance a meal.
Smaller versions of the barrier are currently in production; each retails for 150 euros, or about $170. So far, Gernigon said that there have been orders from a hotel in New York, a restaurant chain in Japan, and other spaces including casinos, libraries and nail salons.