Mannequins, Beekeepers & Gas Masks: London Bars Plan Playful Social-Distancing Solutions

Pubs, cafes and restaurantsin England might be able to reopen for outdoor trade by 22 June 2020 in a bid to #SaveSummer andprevent millions of hospitality job losses, hurrah!

But what about the London bars without outdoor spaces? One immersive venue specialist is gearing up for further easing of lockdown rules with playful social-distancing solutions from mannequins to gas masks…

As lockdown restrictions are gradually eased across the UK, preparation is well underway to reopen venues like bars safely. But how?

London-based hospitality company Inception Group, which owns eclectic concept venues such as Mr Fogg’s, Cahoots and Bunga Bunga, is experimenting with some playful ideas to put us all at ease and, most importantly, keep both customers and staff safe.

Inventive and – as we’ve become accustomed to on London’s hospitality scene – immersive solutions range from Victorian-dressed mannequins styled as characters from Around The World In 80 Days at Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, to beekeeping suits as an apt PPE option at Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals in Fitzrovia.

How will it work? The Victorian-dressed mannequins at Mr Fogg’s Residence will help to enforce safe social-distancing measures. Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days, was the inspiration behind the popular collection of Mr Fogg’s bars, so why not get to know the characters a little better, cocktail in hand?

Inception Group co-founders Duncan Stirling & Charlie Gilkes raise a glass with their new social-distancing mannequins at Mr Fogg’s Residence

As new social distancing rules will likely mean fewer people are allowed in bars, the mannequin solution will help maintain the typically buzzy bar atmosphere by filling up tables, and after a few cocktails, you’ll be forgiven for mistaking them for real people and having a little chat (I mean, it happens all the time in Zara, right?).

Over at Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals, bee-keeping ensembles provide a natty PPE solution. Whether PPE is necessary for staff and/or guests in bars and restaurants is still to be confirmed, but should it be enforced, bee suits will be perfectly in-keeping with the bar’s blossoming natural surroundings.

‘After a few cocktails, you’ll be forgiven for mistaking the mannequins for real people and having a little chat (I mean, it happens all the time in Zara, right?)’

After all, with face masks set to become a SS20 staple, the fetching light-weight veil of a beekeeping suit will keep you one step ahead in the fashion stakes, and if it means we can spend cocktail hour with a friend, who’s complaining?

Over at Cahoots, Inception Group’s post-war, London Underground-themed bar in Soho, you might be asked to slip on a gas mask. A little tricky to imbibe your gin rickey, perhaps, but at least you’re out of the house.

Alternatively, you could go all Club Tropicana at Maggie’s, the 80s-style tongue-in-cheek nightclub in Chelsea where inflatable rubber rings and meter-long litter pickers will help party-goers and staff stay a safe distance apart.

And finally, at Barts speakeasy bar on Sloane Avenue, Inception Group’s original venue, mixologists plan to resume service while wearing decorative theatrical masks. As well as enhancing safety while the mixologists do their thing, the masks will add to the drama. Plus, as the first bar in London to feature a fancy-dress box, donning eccentric glad rags akin to those worn during the roaring ‘20s has always been customary.

Other safety measures include the introduction of temperature checks for staff, hand sanitation dispensers, rigorous cleaning and a one-way system for entry and exit where possible.

‘Now more than ever before, people will need spaces that spark a sense of escapism and imagination, and we are determined to adapt what we were doing successfully before’

Charlie Gilkes, who co-founded Inception Group alongside Duncan Stirling in the wake of the 2007/08 financial crisis, knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity: ‘The top priority for planning our reopening is adapting our ways of working and spaces to the new COVID-secure standards in order to ensure we create safe socialising and working environments in all of our venues,’ he says.

‘But, crucially for us, this must be done without forgetting, or compromising, what originally drew people into our establishments. We do not want to welcome visitors back into spaces that feel sterile, devoid of personality and atmosphere because of the new measures.

‘Now more than ever before, people will need spaces that spark a sense of escapism and imagination, and we are determined to adapt what we were doing successfully before to the new ways of operating, whilst staying true to what we do best: creating unique and memorable experiences.

‘Should these playful solutions come to fruition, we will ensure they adhere to official guidelines.’


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