Dubai cafe uses giant teddy bears as social distancing tools

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Those dining at DIFC cafe Healthy Little Secrets may find themselves seated alongside some furry friends.

The Dubai cafe has placed ‘social distancing’ teddy bears on seats to both mark where humans shouldn’t sit, and to bring a little cheer to its customers.

“We’re all supposed to be maintaining a distance from each other these days, but the idea of putting up signs and crosses depicting where customers are and are not allowed to sit seemed grim,” says founder Ingrid Alexandra. “We ended up placing the bears there as a way to make things a little happier.”

Alexandra owns the restaurant with husband Leon Cheung and says the idea behind the teddy bears stemmed from playtime with their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Alessya.

“We were trying to figure where our tables would go, and who could sit where and we were using our daughter’s toys. Then we thought, why don’t we actually just leave teddy bears so whoever is at that table is not feeling isolated or shunned or sad, and can think of the cafe as a relaxing place to get a salad or a cup of coffee?”

The owners first purchased two oversized teddy bears which are currently taking up space on the seats outside. “If you’re parking in DIFC, chances are you’re passing by our branch and can see them. So this was also a lovely way to show people that we’re open,” adds Alexander.

The couple ended up buying more bears in varying colours, and have placed them inside so that the “responsible” bears can indicate where one is allowed to sit.

Currently, the bears are placed on tables to indicate that the table is blocked. However, diners who come in alone can choose to sit opposite a bear, as long as they are adhering to social distancing guidelines and keeping an empty table between them and other diners.

With the current restrictions, the health-food spot can have around 10 diners inside the cafe. “It’s a great way to remind people to remain two metres away from everyone else. So, if you’re coming alone, you’re sitting next to a teddy bear!” says Alexandra.

The teddy bears are just one of their new ideas.

Like a lot of food and beverage outlets, Healthy Little Secrets felt the impact of the pandemic, despite its focus on online delivery. Alexander credits this to the fact that people have had more time on their hands to whip up healthy meals. It’s one of the reasons the restaurant branched out from its usual menu, which earlier focused on sandwiches and salads, to introduce gluten-free and keto Italian dishes. “It really helped, says Alexander. “We have a lot of such ideas for the future.”

The idea of placing stuffed animals or other inanimate dining companions in cafes isn’t new: in Tokyo’s Moomin Café, patrons are seated with a stuffed animal for company. And now the trend is on the rise in response to social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus.

In the US, The Inn at Little Washington placed mannequins at empty tables to give customers some sense of normalcy.

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