There are plastic patrons at the Inn at Little Washington ...

As dining areas across the nation slowly welcome diners back, one award-winning Virginia restaurant is taking a creative approach to making its atmosphere and ambiance feel as normal as possible, all while maintaining CDC-recommended social distancing standards. The Inn at Little Washington has raised some eyebrows with its choice to use mannequins to fill its vacant seats!

The luxury inn is situated in the small town of Washington, Virginia, in the beautiful Rappahannock County. Though the inn restaurant was initially scheduled to reopen on May 15, the head chef, Patrick O'Connell, decided to push back its opening date to May 29, in light of the new guidelines and restrictions that dining establishments are required to abide by as the state reopens. Those restrictions include limiting customers in dining areas to 50-percent capacity and implementing strict sanitization and cleaning protocols. 

In order to maintain the standards that have helped the inn earn three Michelin stars, O'Connell unveiled a plan in which he would follow regulations, all while making sure his tables didn't sit vacant. His solution? Easy. He plans to fill in the empty seats with lifesized, lifelike mannequins complete with styled hair and dapper evening outfits. 


In fact, the chef—who was once a drama major in college—was able to pair up with the local Shirlington Signature Theater for some inspiration. With the theater's assistance, he was able to fill the dining area with mannequin guests dressed in 1940s-era clothing. 

O'Connell has committed to his creative circumnavigation of the rules by instructing servers to treat the mannequin dolls as real guests, too. Plans are in place for servers to pour the plastic patrons wine during dinner service, and servers have even been instructed to ask them about their evening. 

"I've always had a thing for mannequins," O'Connell said in a statement. "They never complain about anything and you can have lots of fun dressing them up. ... This would allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops."

For real-life, breathing guests who come and dine at the Inn at Little Washington, this dining experience will undoubtedly be one that stands out in their memory. For some of them, however, the reality of dining with life-size dolls might have a creepy element to it—like something straight out of a horror movie. 

As for any concerns about reopening in the midst of a pandemic, it sounds like the Inn at Little Washington plans to adhere to the strict guidelines that have been put into place. Because the inn is situated in such a small town, the number of COVID-19 cases does not compare with those in the surrounding area. Regardless, all staff members will conduct deep cleanings of the dining area, heavy traffic hallways, and other locations on the property where germs can spread, and regular cleaning and sanitation practices will be implemented throughout the day. They're even using infrared lighting to help kill off any traces of the virus and other harmful germs.

"The Inn at Little Washington has always celebrated the 'living theatre' of a restaurant ..." O'Connell said. "We're all craving to gather and see other people right now. They don't all necessarily need to be real people.”

Would You Dine-in With Mannequins?

All this begs the obvious question: Would you be willing to dine with mannequins? At least you wouldn't have to worry about loud tables! Let us know in the comments!