Business

'Model' customers keep Tokyo restaurant diners at a social distance

AFP-JIJI

The coronavirus pandemic might have left many restaurants empty, but one establishment in Tokyo is enforcing social distancing with the help of some model customers: life-like mannequins keeping diners from getting too close.

Masato Takemine’s Chinese restaurant looks busy even as many businesses in the city deal with a dearth of clientele, with ladies in ornate Chinese-style dresses and a girl in a kimono among those seated at his tables.

But the 16 customers are actually mannequins he has placed randomly at tables to keep diners from getting too close.

“At first, I tried removing some of the tables to have more space in between, but it then looked so lonely, as if the restaurant was under renovation,” Takemine said.

“With these mannequins, the restaurant looks busy from the outside, and I can make sure customers are social distancing.

“And it’s fun. We’re playing around with the concept,” he said with a laugh.

The restaurant's owner tried spacing out tables at first, but found the atmosphere seemed too lonely, so opted for mannequins instead. | AFP-JIJI
The restaurant’s owner tried spacing out tables at first, but found the atmosphere seemed too lonely, so opted for mannequins instead. | AFP-JIJI

While Japan has avoided the devastating tolls seen in places hit hardest by the coronavirus, many restaurants shut their doors during a state of emergency and even after it was lifted in May, and the industry has seen customers shun eating out.

Takemine’s restaurant, Kirin Saikan, reopened in late May but is seeing about half the number the customers it did before the virus arrived, he said.

Among those returning was 51-year-old Tetsuya Kimura, who said he was startled when he walked through the entrance for the first time after the reopening and saw the mannequins.

“These dolls look so real that I need some time to get used to them,” he said, tucking into a bowl of noodles at a table he was sharing with a child mannequin.

One Tokyo restaurant has turned to mannequins, seated among diners, to help enforce social distancing. | AFP-JIJI
One Tokyo restaurant has turned to mannequins, seated among diners, to help enforce social distancing. | AFP-JIJI

Takeichi Otomo, 82, another frequent customer at the restaurant, said he struggled to not look too shocked at the beginning.

“I still get startled when I come here,” he said with a straight face. “This is a crazy idea.”

While the mannequins keep the restaurant from feeling too empty, Takemine said he often thinks with longing about when his customers can visit with family and friends and enjoy carefree laughs and chats over platters to share.

“I don’t think we can go back to those times for many months,” he said.

“I am just hoping we will return to normal while creating an environment where people can eat and drink safely.”

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