A chef plans to fill empty tables in his restaurant with life-sized mannequins when it reopens to practice social distancing

The Inn at Little WashingtonMannequins take the place of patrons at empty tables at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia.
  • Patrick O’Connell, the chef at the Inn in at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, plans to place mannequins at tables to help practice social distancing when it reopens,Washingtonian reported.
  • O’Connell has been working with a Virginia theatre to create the mannequins, which will be styled in clothing reminiscent of the 1940s and treated to wine by the restaurant’s staff, according to Washingtonian.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on May 9 that restaurants will be allowed to open to seat patrons outdoors on May 15, though the Inn will not reopen until customers are allowed to be seated indoors.
  • There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Washington, Virginia, where the restaurant is located O’Connell told Washingtonian, though there have been more than 6,000 in nearby Washington, DC.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A Virginia chef planning to reopen his restaurant at the end of the month has reportedly devised an unconventional way to fill empty tables and ensure patrons are practicing state-mandated social distancing – mannequins.

Washingtonian and Eater reported that Patrick O’Connell, the head chef at the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, plans to fill seats inside his restaurant with life-sized human dolls.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on May 9 announced that restaurants would be able to reopen to patrons beginning on May 15 – for outdoor seating only – as phase one of his plan to reopen businesses. Virginia eateries, which have been limited to take-out or delivery service since Northam’s enacted a stay-at-home order on March 30, must limit the capacity of available outdoor seating by half.

On May 12, the governor pushed the plan until May 29 for counties in Northern Virginia, though Rappahannock County, where the restaurant is located, is allowed to go ahead with the original May 15 date.

The Inn at Little Washington, which has a three-star rating from the 2020 Michelin Guide, does not have outdoor seating, so it won’t be opening until the end of May at the earliest, according to Washingtonian. The head chef seems to be banking that Northam will require a similar limited capacity when in-person diners are allowed to return, hence the mannequins.

The Inn did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

O’Connell has been working with Shirlington’s Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, to create the mannequins, which will be styled in clothing reminiscent of the 1940s, Washingtonian reported. Restaurant staff will pour the fake diners wine and “ask them about their evening,” according to the report.

It wouldn’t be the first time fake humans have been used as stand-ins for the real thing in the post-COVID-19 world. A Taiwanese baseball league played its first game of the 2020 season last month to an audience full of cardboard cutouts and mannequins.

O’Connell said there weren’t any known COVID-19 cases in the city where the restaurant is located, though the state of Virginia has seen at least 25,800 infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been at least six cases in Rappahannock County.

The city of Washington, DC, about 70 miles east, has had at least 6,389 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to Hopkins.

The staff has been conducting deep cleanings using infrared light, according to Washingtonian.

“I think it would do people a world of good to reduce their anxiety level when they come out to a place which is still unaffected, because if you watch your television, you think that there isn’t such a place under a bubble,” the chef told Washingtonian.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.