Since the opening of the first department stores in the mid-1800s, mannequins have been essential tools of retail business. What was true at Macy's in 1858 is still true today. Mannequins continue to serve as a showcase for the best merchandise a store has to offer to attract potential buyers. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust mannequins in a new unexpected role: social distancing. 

Mannequins have historically been a key feature of store design; however, over the years, retailers began to realize the impact that they could have on their brand message. More and more retailers have challenged typical mannequin ‘standards’ to make their retail design stand out and represent something different. InStore Design Display has been helping retailers provide exceptional customer experience for more than 100 years, so we are no stranger to the influence of mannequins on buying decisions. Mannequins have always been used to depict the current era. The “Post-COVID Era” is no different. However, these retail relics are finding a new purpose... in dining rooms. 

As restaurants worldwide reopen their doors to customers, one rule seems to prevail regardless of culture or custom: maintain a safe social distance between employees and guests whenever possible. Aside from safety and delightful fare, the ambiance is vital. Many restauranteurs are getting creative to deliver a welcoming and on-brand atmosphere while adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

In the midst of reopening, it’s common for restaurants and bars to reduce their capacity to 50% of their standard limit. Instead of taping off furniture or simply removing it, restaurant owners are thinking outside the box. To make dining rooms feel less empty while social distancing protocols go into place, human-like figures are filling the unavailable tables. 

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Mannequins take a seat at the Inn at Little Washington Inn at Little Washington [official]

This D.C. area restaurant, famous for tasting menu presentations, has come up with an equally theatrical (albeit, a little creepy) way to welcome patrons back into their dining rooms. Their executive chef seats unused tables with mannequins wearing vintage, 1940s-style outfits.


Image Credit: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

A Vienna bar use of mannequins dissuades customers from trying to sit in their lounge space. This quirky scene will have you cracking a smile and snapping a pic to post on your social media—win-win!


Image Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

An eatery in Australia chose to provide a different type of decoy to make customers feel more comfortable. The restaurant owner created cardboard cutouts and even prepared ambient background noise, including chatter and the sounds of clinking cutlery, to play in the background.

“We really wanted to add some atmosphere and give diners that realistic dining experience,” he told an Australian newspaper. “The cutouts and background noise are a bit eerie when you first walk in - but once you’re sitting down it’s a bit of fun.”

Whether mannequins are being used to help buyers visualize an outfit to reduce the use of dressing rooms or to improve the atmosphere in the dining rooms—mannequins are “alive” and well in a Post-COVID world. Similarly, InStore Design Display is working to be agile and solve problems during this time. We too are operating from the mission we were built on, creating an exceptional retail experience. But when needed, we are using our core competencies to improve the health and well being of our communities by providing products to create safe environments—even when those new environments are new territory. 

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