Inside the Rise of a Hot New Industry: Social Distancing Consultants
Everyone’s recasting themselves as an expert in the new business of keeping people six feet apart
In early March, Raymond Haldeman, a restaurant designer from Philadelphia, got a call from a client. The nine-foot submarine he’d designed as a centerpiece for their new 200-seater seafood restaurant, The Boiling Pot — with tables in the sub for VIPs — was a no go, said the restaurant. People won’t want to sit in a confined space anymore, they explained. More clients put Haldeman’s services on hold. Concerned about his future, he decided to pivot. He started by analyzing OSHA and CDC guidelines and researching industry best practices. Then he updated his website tagline to read, “Specialty design for social distancing.” Underneath this, he laid out his new services: distancing consulting, rebranding, and physical modifications, to enable restaurants to “thrive under today’s new reality.”
As shelter-in-place laws start to relax across the U.S., and businesses begin to reopen—or at least to start thinking about it—everyone from retailers, restaurants, hairdressers, fashion boutiques, and building managers are desperate to overhaul their spaces with new safety protocols so they can protect employees and customers —and start making money again. The problem? No one really knows what they are doing.
Federal guidelines cover the basics of hand-washing, sanitizing, and mask-wearing, but they lack specificity for different scenarios. For example, if you install a plexiglass screen, how large should it be? What’s the best way to redesign an office floor plan to limit interactions? Should employee temperatures be taken every shift? What about customer temperatures? Amid this uncertainty, a new cottage industry comprised of opportunists and pivoters has sprung up to fill the void: the social distancing consultant. From architects and designers to maintenance and marketing companies, these firms have recast themselves virtually overnight as experts in the new, high-demand art of keeping people six feet apart.
Amid this uncertainty, a new cottage industry comprised of opportunists and pivoters has sprung up to fill the…