This article was inspired by a number of recent news features on the BBC and other media - which detailed how some enterprising individuals and organisations are navigating the new era of social distancing - and making the most of the current conditions.
Truth is that much of what we considered normal and everyday life has had to change in order that society as a whole can be better shielded and protected from potential contagion and infection. I recall back on February 29th at the Birmingham Guitar Show - that I was one of the very few who instituted a policy of elbow bumps as the standard greeting / salutation. Nearly everyone else around me was still shaking hands and embracing acquaintances even.
Anthony Fauci of the US scientific / medical advisory committee to the president has proclaimed the death of the handshake and has personally committed to not shaking hands for the rest of his lifetime. The country that has generally the safest record during this pandemic - Taiwan instituted a mandatory ’Must wear face mask’ policy right from the outset - while most countries are still catching up with that essential means of prevention.
So the question really is what can you best do to ensure you and yours are as safe as possible - while trying to return back to a more social and interactive society!
There is a somewhat common 'Pod'-theme to this feature - whether that pod be a fixed structure or a vehicle. The phenomena of Drive-In Movies was first patented in New Jersey in 1933 while there had been examples dating back as early as 1910. In the early days movie theatres tended to be small - and the new Drive-Ins gave access to more people while reaffirming America's love affair with the automobile.
In the early days you would pull into an assigned space on a grid and a hook a wired speaker over your door window or frame. Latterly patrons could simply dial their car radio into a dedicated frequency - and have the movie soundtrack be broadcast via their car stereo / ICE.
Obviously having people cocooned in their cars is a great way to social distance and keep everyone safe - and thus we've seen a growth in not just Drive-In Movie Theatres and Events - but also the introduction of other types of Drive-In Shows / Performances like Concerts - with a number of those already having gone ahead in the USA and Denmark even (as pictured above) - with several more events planned and on the schedule.
TimeOut featured a recent piece on '@TheDrivein' - a UK organisation which will be bringing Drive-In Cinema to 12 UK cities this summer - starting with South London some time in July. I expect there to be many more events of this nature - and this should bring some small degree of much needed relief to several performing arts including Theatrical Productions and Opera even - vis-a-vis Glyndebourne etc.
Unfortunately Iceland will need a different plan for Drive-In Cinemas as with encroaching 24 hours of daylight - Icelandic Summers really aren't conducive to open-sky cinemas. For most other countries though Drive-Ins are a safe and viable alternative to most kinds of seated shows.
Another UK-based Drive-In outfit has announced itself - The Luna Drive In Cinema - scant details thus far - but definitely an uptick in this sort of activity.
This is where the USA still has a distinct advantage as you can pretty much transact most things via Drive-Thru style operations. In other countries it's typically more fast-food outlets, while in America you can be married, divorced and buried courtesy of a drive-thru experience.
Iceland has had its 'Sjoppa' (Shoppa) culture for decades - sort of drive-thru 7-Eleven style convenience stores - where you could pick up various take-away foods and snacks - sandwiches, hotdogs and ice creams, confectionery - and daily supplies like milk and bread. Like 7-Elevens these are open for extended periods and easily accessible from the comfort of your car.
I fully expected the various UK take-away style businesses - the McDonalds etc. with their ready-made hatches and intercom systems - to largely continue throughout this time of Coronavirus. While most of them actually shut down as the interior space for the employees was too cramped to adequately accommodate those workers under social distancing guidelines.
This means various existing establishments will need to be amended and adapted with wider aisles and employee space - so that they can avoid standing shoulder-to-shoulder like they used to in those more cramped conditions.
I fully expect to see a real resurgence and growth in all manner of Drive-Thru services, with an accent on those hatches / hatch-ways and sills being increasingly made from or covered with antimicrobial Brass. In fact over the coming years I see a growing trend for Bar and Counter surfaces to be covered in antimicrobial materials.
The USA has led the way on Drive-Thru services, and we the rest of the world have often mocked the scale of this - while South Korea showed that this was an excellent medium for Coronavirus Testing - and the possibilities here are really endless.
Most supermarkets have a system of order-and-collect - and I see parts of that too transitioning more towards a hatch / drive-thru experience.
I have long been a fan of Home-Delivery food services - Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats and the like. I saw so many Deliveroo bikes in my neighbourhood that it became my main delivery route of choice - while it hasn't always served me faithfully (cold food etc.) it has nonetheless greatly simplified and expanded that aspect of my dining choices.
By and large most of those types of businesses have kept going throughout the pandemic - with pizza restaurants particularly prolific during this time. This ties into a second trend of 'Dark Kitchens' or more industrial style food preparation companies typically housed in warehouses on industrial estates. Most of these have more room to operate within - and everything made here is done on a delivery-only basis. A number of these supply larger restaurant chains with staples, while the majority do cook-to-order.
A recent BBC feature reported how several former sit-down restaurants have now decided to change to take-out only businesses - as their seated venues aren't conducive to safe eating environments. A lot of those spaces are fairly cramped with notorious bottlenecks and choke-points. While modern restaurants will need to be far more spacious - and have a set one-way system of throughput. In fact most restaurants cannot do social distancing properly - they are based on a single confined space of entry and exit - the toilet facilities are cramped etc. so just none of that is suitable really. For many businesses the viable alternative is to switch to take-away / delivery services only. It need not be a big transition - as there are already those myriad courier and delivery companies on-tap which are so essential to distribution - you can leave the logistics to them largely.
There has been an incredible growth in home delivery - with various services stepping in to provide take-away options where those have not necessarily been offered by those restaurants. Increasingly though the take-away / delivery route will become the default rather than the side-gig!
Some of you will already have seen various news features on the Amsterdam Mediamatic Restaurant with its 'Serres Séparées' mini greenhouse-like pods. This to me is an ideal route for seated restaurants to sort of be able to continue as normal while providing a properly safe space for their patrons.
Mediamatic does everything right - from the appropriate distancing of the pods to the mask-and-glove wearing serving staff - and how food is served largely on elongated boards / planks / paddles to help enforce social distancing guidelines.
I'm one of those who is in no hurry to return to seated restaurants at the moment. There are various considerations that need to be made in terms of obviously core social distancing - but the avoidance of choke-points and bottlenecks which might otherwise inadvertently force people closer together than they should be. You need to factor in toilet services and entrance and exit points too. Traditionally restaurants have had the same single point on entrance / exit - where people have been force to congregate in cramped spaces - that is no longer a viable option.
There will likely also be a pattern change to casual restaurant businesses where people were used to queueing for a table - or being sent to a nearby pub until their number came up. None of that is really viable any more - and so we will be back to a system of scheduling and reservations and time-slots.
Many will simply just choose to stay at home and order in - such has already been happening - and those Dark Kitchen style restaurant businesses will likely see the most growth in coming years.
For those who enjoy dining out - the pod-style system is the only way really that allows you to carry on doing that relatively safely.
Sporting events in general have been one of the most significant casualties of the Coronavirus Pandemic. All those pundit, opinion and banter sites and side-industries are currently running on empty - including of course sports betting too.
It's kind of fitting then that there has been an explosion in coverage of an altogether different sort of Sports Medium - Competitive Gaming or Esports as it's now commonly known. We've all read about teenage millionaire Fortnite competition winners - and when you can't watch live football and commentate on that - surely FIFA 2020 is the next best thing!
And while competitions have traditionally been held in arenas and fixed venues - there is no reason why people cannot dial it in from the comfort of their own homes. Esports has much of the same excitement as the real physical thing and is a current and evolving phenomena. It certainly hasn't fully hit the mainstream yet - but some of those sports cable channels have grown bored with showing re-runs of old events, and are now increasingly broadcasting Esport tournaments too.
This is certainly an area with huge potential, and while it may not please everyone - it can certainly service all those side-industries too which have been somewhat compromised and neglected of late.
This is all about Social Distancing and minimising unnecessary contact and likely risk vectors. Being safely cocooned in your own 'pod' is obviously the only properly safe option if you wish to venture out. Of course there is still nothing safer than staying at home.
However, if you want some semblance of 'Going Out Out' as Micky Flanagan would put it - you do need some form of protection to keep you as safe as possible. And that does mean there needing to be some sort of encapsulating pod dynamic - as mentioned - either a fixed properly spaced out structure or your own family car.
We will likely see quite a significant transitional period here - where businesses tool up and adapt to the new reality or fall by the wayside. There has already been a considerable trend towards home convenience - with all those myriad delivery services and that will all continue to grow.
Performance and Entrainment businesses will need to either reach more into the home - via online media, or reach more out into the open - with larger broadcast spaces - like those mentioned for Drive-In performance above.
Some of this was already trending in that directions as we've had Deliveroo, Dark Kitchens and Netflix for a while - and yet more types of businesses will need to go down those routes. People will be increasingly working from home too - so many more business will need to extend their reach into those homes - using both new and traditional means.
These next few years will likely see a whole lot more change and innovation though and significant evolutions of society and culture.
An interesting counterpoint has come up that in smaller towns and villages - delivery services are obviously much fewer and far between if they exist at all. Which has meant that Take-Away restaurants there have instituted strictly scheduled slots as to when customers should come to pick up their orders. In these sorts of places cash is still transacted on a fairly regular basis.
In bigger towns and cities the scenario is the exact opposite - as per my most regular Pizza Restaurant - Basilico of Marylebone - which have the following notice when you place an order :
" Because of Covid-19 we wish to safeguard our customers and delivery drivers.
All deliveries will be placed at the door and the driver will stand at least two meters away whilst it is collected.
We no longer allow a collection option.
Only card payment will be accepted."