Noodle and katsu chain Wagamama is to reopen its restaurants from this weekend with its long tables and benches in place after taking inspiration from Japan to resolve safety concerns
The dining chain said it has been inspired by Japanese traditions to design new sliding screens to help keep diners safe as they return to its restaurants across the UK.
Wagamama said it will reopen only one of its sites, at Royal Festival Hall in central London, on Saturday before opening a further three two days later, in Stevenage, Swindon and Manchester’s Trafford Centre.
Emma Woods, chief executive of the chain, told the PA news agency it is “really excited” to see customers return to its restaurants after more than three months away.
“We’ve been constantly talking to our guests to get ready to open, but it will just be fantastic to see them coming back into restaurants,” she said.
“It’s been a period of reflection and potential innovation for everyone in the industry.”
Ms Woods said the company has taken inspiration from the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, where broken bowls are mended with gold, as it restarts its dining operations.
She said: “We called our plans Project Kintsugi. We were inspired by the challenge of not just replacing what we had, but adapting it in an original way that is still true to ourselves.”
She stressed that the safety of customers and staff will be the priority as the chain prepares to open more sites.
The company plans to have 18 restaurants reopen to dine-in customers by the end of month, before basing further expansion plans on the success of the initial openings.
It hopes to reopen the rest of its outlets in August and September.
Despite concerns over the impact of social distancing guidance, the chain has kept long tables and benches in its restaurants by introducing the sliding partitions.
Design director Mark Standing said: “Sliding screens (Shoji) are at the very heart of the Japanese architectural aesthetic.
“They have been used for hundreds of years to divide spaces in buildings and rooms.
“I took my inspiration for the design of screen dividers for our long sharing tables and benches from this tradition.”
More than 100 of Wagamama’s sites have reopened for delivery customers, with many also serving customers with click and collect services.
Last month, the restaurant business said UK sales and earnings fell in its first quarter as the Covid-19 crisis brought an abrupt end to its run of strong trading.