food / travel

Dining With Distance: Restaurant Innovation Adapts To COVID-19

Eten Restaurant, part of the Mediamatic Biotoop centre in Amsterdam, has tested greenhouse-like booths for customers to eat in.
Eten Restaurant, part of the Mediamatic Biotoop centre in Amsterdam, has tested greenhouse-like booths for customers to eat in.

For many, getting back to "normal life" means going out to eat. But people also want to be safe, which is why eateries — from Amsterdam to Australia — are experimenting with distancing innovations that might soon become the new normal in the field of gastronomy. So how will dining out look like in the post-pandemic world? Here are few glimpses:

• In Saxony-Anhalt, Robin Pietsch, the German state's only starred chef, is thinking about setting up small "greenhouses' in an open space at Wernigerode Castle, the German daily Die Welt reports. Each glass cubicle would accommodate two guests and protect them from other diners, and yet still allow them to appreciate the surrounding scenery.

• Pietsch says he was inspired by the "separated greenhouses' that a vegan restaurant in Amsterdam set up on the waterfront and tested earlier this month. The restaurant should reopen for the public in the beginning of June with other Dutch restaurants and terraces hosting up to 30 guests, reported NH Nieuws.

• Unlike its European neighbors, Sweden never enforced a lockdown, and bars, restaurants and cafés continue to serve seated customers, albeit with certain precautions in place. Many establishments decided, for example, to rope off every other table to make social distancing easier. But that's nothing compared to the approach taken by a new restaurant called Bord för En (Table for One), which opened two weeks ago serves just one customer per day, seated at a table in the middle of... a field! Not only that, but food is served in a basket attached to a rope. Offering seasonal and locally farmed food and drinks, the restaurant's owners also have a novel approach when it comes to the bill: It's up to the guests to decide how much they're willing to pay. "We're all facing difficult times," the restaurateurs​ told the Insider.

• The proprietor of a seafood pub in Ocean City, in the U.S. state of Maryland, have also found a creative way to keep business afloat while maintaining social distancing. Customers at Fish Tales, which is reopening its dine-in services, will once again be allowed to mix, mingle and much, but with one condition: They have to wear giant inflatable inner tubes on wheels. These "bumper tables' are six feet wide, and according to UJ City News, the owner intends to fit 40 to 60 of them inside her restaurant.

Photo: Fish Tales

• A café in northeast Germany came up with a similar idea, only instead of inner tubes, customers use swimming pool floats (water noodles) to maintain social distancing. The 1.5-meter-long noodles are attached to hats that customers at Rothe in Schwerin, as the café is known, don while dining, Euronews reports.

• In Spain and Italy, some restaurants plan to reopen with plexiglass screens separating tables or even individual diners. One restaurant in the town of Leganés has already installed the prototype screens to test the design, reports The Local. As part of a pilot test, it has also set up thermal cameras that detect the temperature of diners.

• In New South Wales, Australia, in the meantime, restaurants are back in operation, but with strict limits on the number of diners allowed. Eateries can serve no more than 10 people at a time. Concerned that some clients might find the relative emptiness a bit off putting, the owner of one Sydney restaurant came up with a crafty solution: Why not fill the empty chairs with cardboard cutouts? And because the faux customers can't, of course, talk, the proprietor also outfitted his establishment with recorded background noise that simulates the chatter of clients, 7 News reports.

•A restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand had a similar idea, but instead of cardboard customers, decided to go with stuffed panda dolls. Different strokes, as they say, for different folks.



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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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