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This is what the future of outdoor dining could look like

Designers based in NYC are pitching some cool new solutions.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Thrust into a new reality this year, New York City's restaurants had to throw together outdoor dining setups quickly and without much direction. There's been a sort of "Wild West" vibe as owners have used everything from "space bubbles" and shipwreck-themed setups to private greenhouses to keep everyone separated.

But now, with a few months of eating on the street under our belts and outdoor dining becoming year-round, designers are looking into how the experience could become more streamlined and uniform.

A Brooklyn-based design firm, Fantástica, has created the outdoor dining setup of the future and unveiled a model in Times Square this week.

The prototype, called "Fast Casual," is a flexible seating and dining module that is ready-to-use for businesses looking to expand to outdoor dining in an efficient but aesthetically pleasing way. 

fast casual outdoor dining times square
Photograph: Courtesy Times square Alliance/FANTÁSTICA

The "Fast Casual" module, which you can try out yourself in Times Square, has six-foot-long components to reinforce social distancing and can be combined in various configurations to accommodate different types of spaces and uses.

Fantástica teamed up with Hollaender and Trinity Highway, manufacturers of aluminum fittings and commercial highway products, to create these pre-assembled toolkits so the furniture would be safe, durable and cost-effective. That being said, the design can also be customized through lighting, colors, materials, and signs to reflect all kinds of aesthetics.

The project is part of the Times Square Alliance's Times Square Design Lab, which explores ideas for public space in real-time, and with real people, on the plazas. Over the years, we've seen the neighborhood transform thanks to the new TKTS booth and Red Steps; the pedestrianization of Broadway’s plazas by Times Square Alliance and DOT; and, more recently, the Times Square Design Lab, which is part of NYCxDESIGN, an annual celebration of design and innovation.

fast casual outdoor dining times square
Photograph: Courtesy Times Square Alliance/FANTÁSTICA

Now is the right time to be exploring new designs, according to the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

"COVID-19 poses immeasurable challenges but it also presents us with an opportunity to reimagine how New Yorkers and visitors interact with our public space, all while supporting the local restaurants and jobs that are part of the fabric and backbone of our city," said Andrew Rigie, the NYC Hospitality Alliance's executive director. "It’s excellent to see the Times Square Alliance continue to lead by example with creative and exciting new uses and installations on their streets in the Crossroads of the World."

fast casual outdoor dining fantastica times square
Photograph: Courtesy Times Square Alliance/FANTÁSTICA

Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, said presenting "Fast Casual" is the group's way of giving back.

"As the needs of New Yorkers continue to evolve, great design can help us meet them," he said. "Times Square has long been a leader in the innovative use of public space. Having our Design Lab incubate new designs like 'Fast Casual' is an opportunity to give back to all New Yorkers, a way to support local businesses, encourage economic development across the city, and provide the kind of quality of life improvements that make your day just that much better.

Keep an eye out—the installation in Times Square will be followed later this week by the roll-out of other related concepts in the Flatiron District and Lower Manhattan. 

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