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Miami Restaurants Get Creative With Social Distancing Methods

Custom-designed dividers at Ember.
Custom-designed dividers at Ember.
Courtesy of Brad Kilgore

On May 18, Miami-Dade County gave restaurants the go-ahead to reopen their dining rooms at 50 percent capacity. The City of Miami and Miami Beach held off initially but followed suit nine days later.

In addition to reduced capacity, area restaurants must comply with the long list of sanitary and social-distancing rules Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez set down in the county's 182-page reopening plan.

Between purchasing vats of hand sanitizer and ordering face masks and signage for staff, some Miami restaurateurs got creative with their approach to ensuring the safety of their diners.

Brad Kilgore, a chef known for elaborate dishes that are as pleasing to the eye as to the palate, is installing clear dividers between the booths at his restaurants. 

The newly installed partitions at his Design District restaurant, Ember (151 NE 41st St., Miami; 786-334-6494; embermiami.com), are etched with the restaurant's logo. Kilgore tapped Miriam Unger at Luxor Carpentry in Oakland Park to help with the design and creation. Previously, Unger worked on both Ember and Kaido. Kilgore said he wanted to install something that would be attractive and permanent. "I know plenty of people have built their own, but it was important to have something that would look good and make my diners feel safe," he tells New Times.

Even with the number of COVID-19 cases trending downward, Kilgore says the long-term trajectory of the virus remains uncertain, so he wanted to install something that would last. "Everything is so unpredictable right now — I'm going to err on the cautious side," says the chef, adding that the one-time investment might wind up saving him money in the long run. "At Ember and Alter, each seat in the dining room is worth about $55,000 [in annual revenue]. This could allow us to utilize every seat in our dining room."

The key is the fact that the dividers are attractive as well as functional. "If you can make them part of how the place looks, it's no big deal," he says. "Restaurants are loud," he adds. "You might even have a better time hearing your friends or date with these dividers in place. It's like dining in a little private room while still enjoying the buzz of a lively dining room."

Kilgore's not the only Miami restaurateur who's getting creative. Others are finding ingenious ways to insulate parties from one another, installing dining pods, curtains, and even inviting monkeys and dinosaurs to dinner.

T-Rex, zebra, and friends dine at Batch.
T-Rex, zebra, and friends dine at Batch.
batch Gastropub

Batch Gastropub (various locations; batchgastropub.com) incorporated touches of whimsy into its sanitation efforts. The tavern has installed an automatic hand-sanitizer station at the entrance to each of its locations (in Brickell, West Palm Beach, and Delray Beach) but also conducts daily health walks for its staff and employs the services of a T-Rex to help with social distancing. The dinosaur, along with a zebra, a kangaroo, and other inflatables, are friendly reminders to stay six feet away from your fellow creatures while dining.

Monkeys and teddy bears ensure that guests at the Bazaar by José Andrés maintain their social distance.
Monkeys and teddy bears ensure that guests at the Bazaar by José Andrés maintain their social distance.
Michele Eve Sandberg

The Bazaar by José Andrés and Katsuya at the SLS South Beach (1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-1701; slshotels.com) have incorporated monkeys and teddy bears to help with social distancing. The friendly faces are found at every other table at both of the tony restaurants.

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Eating House table dividers.
Eating House table dividers.
Courtesy of Giorgio Rapivacoli

Eating House (804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-448-6524;eatinghousemiami.com) management conducts employee temperature checks, disinfects at regular intervals, and installed hand-sanitizer dispensers, but chef/partner Giorgio Rapicavoli wanted to add an extra layer of safety to make guests feel safe. So the staff employed a touch of ingenuity to construct barriers by stringing up clear shower curtains on portable racks.

Distancing pods at Pubbelly Sushi.
Distancing pods at Pubbelly Sushi.
Pubbelly Sushi

At Pubbelly Sushi (various locations; pubbellyglobal.com), watch out for industrial-grade dining pods that help the restaurant adhere to the required six feet of separation. A welcome bonus: The pods create a sense of privacy for diners, transforming a state-mandated guideline into an intimate setting. The dining pods have been installed at all four Pubbelly Sushi locations (Aventura Mall, Brickell, Dadeland, and Miami Beach). 

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