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Dining with dummies? Renowned restaurant uses mannequins to fill seats

The Inn at Little Washington adds a new meaning to the phrase, "Social distancing for dummies."

WASHINGTON, Va. — One of the country’s most renowned restaurants says mannequins will add a touch of whimsy and help with social distancing when customers return to its grand dining room later this month.

Mannequins dressed in fine 1940′s-style attire were already theatrically staged Thursday at The Inn at Little Washington, tucked in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains about 90 minutes west of Washington, D.C.

Credit: AP Photo/ Steve Helber

Although business restrictions are set to begin easing in some parts of the state on Friday, restaurants can only serve dine-in customers in an outdoor space. The three-Michelin-star restaurant has opted to wait until May 29 to resume dining service indoors.

Credit: AP Photo/ Steve Helber

“When we needed to solve the problem of social distancing and reducing our restaurant’s occupancy by half, the solution seemed obvious — fill it with interestingly dressed dummies,” chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell said in a statement. “This would allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops.”

Credit: AP Photo/ Steve Helber
Credit: AP Photo/ Steve Helber

O’Connell, a self-taught cook, has won multiple James Beard Awards and was the 2019 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s lifetime achievement award. He was also awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2019.

“We’re all craving to gather and see other people right now,” O’Connell said. “They don’t all necessarily need to be real people.”

In Florida, restaurants are allowed to open at 25-percent capacity and have outdoor seating. They still have to follow the social distancing guidelines and stay six feet apart. 

And while the Sunshine State hasn't seen anything this creative yet-- having mannequins to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 isn't a bad idea. 

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