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The Inn at Little Washington Thinks Mannequins Will Make Social Distancing Less Awkward

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The Michelin-starred restaurant hopes to make its dining room feel less empty once customers return at limited capacity

Mannequins take a seat at the Inn at Little Washington
Inn at Little Washington [official]
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

The D.C. area’s only restaurant with three Michelin stars, famous for show-stopping presentations of its haute American tasting menus, has come up with an equally theatrical — albeit, a little creepy — way to make its dining room fell less empty while social distancing protocols go into place. When the Inn at Little Washington can host visitors inside its glamorous, rural Virginia digs, chef Patrick O’Connell plans to seat unused tables with mannequins wearing vintage, 1940s-style outfits.

The Inn plans to open for dinner on Friday, May 29. Under Virginia’s current plan, it could welcome customers for half-capacity outdoor seating as early as Friday, May 15. If Virginia progresses through its first phase of reopening quickly, the Shenandoah Valley destination may be able to serve customers inside by the time it opens its doors.

The look and feel of the performance art project is still being worked out, but a spokesperson says couture sets will align “within the whimsical vein of the Inn’s reverently irreverent approach to hospitality.” The restaurant is working with Arlington’s Signature Theater and Design Foundry to build the “sets.”

Mannequins at the Inn at Little Washington
Mannequins at the Inn at Little Washington
Inn at Little Washington [official]

The Inn is in Rappahannock County, so it’s outside of the Northern Virginia region that will start reopening later than the rest of the state. With tasting menus that run $248 per person before wine pairings, it’s a luxury draw for big spenders from D.C. That could tempt city dwellers to drive out and patronize the restaurant before their own local regulations allow. D.C.’s emergency orders expire May 15, but Mayor Muriel Bowser has already said she expects to move that date.

Medallions of chilled lobster with Imperial Osetra caviar on a raft of garden tomato with horseradish cream.
Inn at Little Washington/official photo

O’Connell, who won a James Beard award for lifetime achievement, has a flair for elaborate excess. He threw a star-studded 40th birthday party at a French castle in 2018, and his over-the-top New Year’s Eve party at The Inn is a hot ticket. A new PBS film, Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary, gives a rare behind-the-scenes look into O’Connell’s rise to the top.

The Inn, which houses 23 opulent guest rooms, also plans to capitalize on its sprawling 20-acre property with a new picnic lunch-and-garden tour led by a dedicated horticulturist. The “Garden and Ground Tour and Box Lunch” addition kicks off for Memorial Day weekend on Friday, May 22, and will run every Friday through Monday indefinitely in two time slots (11 a.m. and 1 p.m.). Tables will be set up around the lush property for guests who want to partake in an al fresco lunch (with the option to add wine) after strolling around its gardens.

This post has been updated with mannequin photos

Inn at Little Washington
The Inn at Little Washington/official photo

The Inn at Little Washington

309 Middle Street, , VA 22747 (540) 675-3800 Visit Website