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3-star Michelin restaurant will use vintage mannequins to fill half-empty dining room

The Inn at Little Washington will fill empty seats with life-size dolls dressed in 1940s garb, while the restaurant must operate at 50% capacity.

WASHINGTON, Virginia — If you've ever had the pleasure of enjoying a meal at the D.C. region's only three-star Michelin restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington, you know just how charming the service can be. But if you happen to visit once the restaurant reopens post pandemic, you may find your dining companions a wee bit stiff. 

With much of the commonwealth beginning to slowly reopen on May 15, chefs and restaurants are making plans to welcome customers back to their dining rooms. But during Phase 1 of Gov. Ralph Northam's reopening plans, restaurants can only serve diners in outdoor spaces such as patios. The Inn at Little Washington can't accommodate al fresco dining, so while chef Patrick O'Connell waits for the state to move patrons indoors, he came up with a way to fill the empty seats in his dining room, which will only be allowed to operate at 50% capacity even when it reopens. 

O'Connell's creative solution to social distancing is to theatrically dress vintage mannequins in clothing from the 1940s, complete with seersucker suits, fedoras, straw boater hats, shoulder pads and knee-length A-line dresses. Tables not filled will living, breathing diners will be occupied by well-coiffed dolls. 

The chef partnered with Arlington's Signature Theater and Landover's Design Foundry to stage the scene and dress the mannequins. 

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Credit: Inn at Little Washington

When asked why the mannequins were being brought in, a spokesperson for the Inn said they were intended to provide "comic relief, a photo opp for guests and something to just fill the void." 

The spokesperson also confirmed that waiters will "attend to" the mannequins, pouring them wine and asking about their evening. 

"It’s all part of the theatrical show at The Inn at Little Washington that the servers are very much a part of," the Inn's spokesperson said. 

The mannequins are not the first time whimsy has found its way to the Inn. The nightly cheese cart is presented by a mooing cow named Farrah, her udders serving as a "faucet," while the monger speaks exclusively in cheesy puns. Kitchen staff wear dalmatian-print chef whites and turndown service comes with a paw-print signed message from Luray, The Inn’s mascot pup. 

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