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The Personalized Hospitality Experience – Sketch of a fitting room with clothes hanging to try on.

Interior Design, Retail, Third Places

The Personalized Hospitality Experience

Before Covid-19 shifted our world, personalized hospitality experiences, like private dining rooms and by-appointment-only shopping, were considered luxuries reserved only for an elite few. But, with social distancing recommendations in place — driven first by necessity and later by comfort — it’s possible some of these once-elite experiences become more common. Here’s a look at how some of this could evolve.

May 27, 2020

How design can make the “new normal” of social distancing feel like a luxury.

Imagine a private fitting room, clothes laid out for a shopper as they arrive for their appointment, curated for their taste. Imagine a personal chef, making dinner for a couple in a private dining room, their food and surroundings tailored to their liking. Imagine a barista, chatting with you across a personal coffee bar, with one stool and one plug for your laptop, just yours.

Now imagine that these experiences are no longer “peak luxury” services, attainable by only the wealthy elite. Imagine, just for a moment, they are the future of restaurant and retail services for all of us. What once were the hallmarks of a lifestyle designed only for the wealthiest among us — customized experiences, shared by very few — could now be enjoyed by many. What if, in a culture shifting towards social distancing and prized personal space, these special experiences were suddenly the affordable, desirable norm?

It’s possible that social distancing has changed our culture already, in a more permanent way than many of us realize. Some things will go back to the way they used to be, and some things won’t. Retail and restaurant design will need to adapt; it will only be a question of how much, and in what way. At the very least, owners may want to design for flexibility; allowing spaces and services to flex along a shifting scale of acceptable social proximity.

We can choose to dig in our heels and continue to rely on commercial and hospitality design standards of clustered throngs of patrons eating at tiny tables in small spaces; or dozens of people, shoulder-to-shoulder picking through stacks of inventory. Or, on the other hand, we could choose to lean into the new normal, as it may be here to stay for quite a while.

What Does Social Distancing Mean, From a Design Perspective?

If we break it down, it’s much less ominous than it sounds: it is still socializing, simply, at a distance. Human nature hasn’t changed; we still crave togetherness, engagement, and interaction. At the same time, we have a newly deepened connection between our personal safety, and the sanctity of our personal space.

This dovetails perfectly with the desire for customized personal experiences in hospitality and retail. We may be exiting the age of experiences fueled by a physical crowd, and entering the age of the personal, the one-of-a-kind, the singular. What does that mean for restaurants and retail? Let’s start with the more complex of the two, restaurants and foodservice.

Social Distancing Design for the Restaurant and Food Service Industry

Creativity and design will be crucial in creating spaces for personalized dining experiences, where a dozen couples may enjoy a dozen private dining rooms, each one a unique design opportunity. As quick table turnover may be a thing of the past (cleaning between services could transform into a serious endeavor), it’s about making the most of the reservation. There are already food and design clubs on both coasts that create unique, one of a kind dining experiences for groups. This could be just the beginning.

Social Distancing Design for the Retail Industry

Retail in the age of social distancing could open up fascinating design possibilities. Retail design has always been about telling a story, so why tell everyone the same story? What an opportunity it is to get to know your customers by chatting with them ahead of time when they make a shopping reservation, asking them questions about their sizes, their style. Services like Stitch Fix already do this for their online customers, why wouldn’t retailers do it for their walk-in customers? Having a customer in for a reservation creates an opportunity to decorate a custom space that creates a sense of gratefulness and a bond that encourages a sale in a unique way. These private shopping salons could be incredible experiences, setup by staff discreetly ahead of time, with custom-selected inventory, with personal space unencumbered.

Comfort & Opportunity in Design

It’s natural to want the long tables back, the crowded little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, shoulder to shoulder. And no one knows, those days may return eventually. In the meantime, rather than avoid the new normal, it could be an incredible design opportunity to fill up our personal space, not with each other, but with great design, for a little while.


This post is part of a series exploring how commercial design may evolve during and after the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Whether you prefer blog posts, podcasts, or Zoom presentations, there is something for you, below.

More from This Series on Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing

Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing

The first post in this series, Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing, takes a “big picture” perspective to explore how a new normal doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The Rebirth of the American Workplace

Recommendations and trends in commercial office design shift in response to cultural norms, technology, and working styles. Following the 2020 pandemic, how might the design of commercial offices adapt this time? On the spectrum from open office concept, through vast fields of cubicles, to private offices, where will we land? Read on, in The Rebirth of the American Workplace.

Immediate Solutions for Socially Distant Retail

This is all great, but what about right now? It has been a tough road for small businesses over the last few months dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. For those small businesses fighting to stay in business, the opportunity to pivot and re-open in some form is upon us. Facing this daunting challenge, where do you even start? We have you covered there, too. Read on in, Immediate Solutions for Socially Distant Retail.

Design Goggles Podcast, Episode 51: Post-Pandemic Design (Part 1) with Chris Guillot of Merchant Method

On our Design Goggles podcast, we were happy to invite returning guest and friend of the firm, Chris Guillot of Merchant Method to chat about how she is consulting with her retail clients to adapt to these rapidly changing times.

Design Goggles Podcast, Episode 52: Post-Pandemic Design (Part 2) with Jeff Pelletier, Founder of Board & Vellum

On our Design Goggles podcast, Jeff Pelletier joined hosts Charles Fadem and Rachel Scott to chat about how the design commercial offices may evolve as the dust of the pandemic settles.

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