Dubai cafe uses giant teddy bears as social distancing tools

Family-owned Healthy Little Secrets has employed 'social distancing' bears to make things 'a little happier'

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 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 her 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 out 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 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,” says Alexandra.

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

Currently, the bears are placed at 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 are keeping an empty table between them and other diners.

With the current restrictions, the health-food spot can have about 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 teddies are only one of the couple's new ideas for their establishment.

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

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

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