Walk into Town Hall Station in Edina and you have no qualms over which bar stools are reserved for social distancing and which can be bellied up to.
"They all look like women currently, built from the waist up so they fit on chairs," says Owner Pete Rifakes of the social distancing dummies he’s now employing as seat holders.
The dummies are the brainchild of Darren Tibbits and Jordan Rohweder of Skully Rebels, a new ad agency with a "punk rock approach to advertising."
"Once the freelance work dried up, we thought we’d take a shot at starting an agency," Tibbits says. "This is the time to be bold, we have ideas and creativity."
That creativity was used to solve the problem of social distancing in the hospitality industry.
"The initial idea came up 'cause Jordan and I have a lot of friends in the service industry," he says. "When the pandemic came up, we knew there would be an issue of getting people back into restaurants, so we came up with a social distance dummy." They decided a 3D cardboard cutout that could be used to promote different beer brands would solve two problems, and approached Apropos, a design studio, to collaborate on the engineering and look.
"Town Hall has been our test kitchen for this," Tibbits says.
"The reaction has been fantastic," Rifakes says. "I’m not there every day (he owns three other variations on Town Hall brewpubs), but I sit at the bar and hear comments not necessarily meant for the owner. They recognize the logos and they make a funny comment, almost talk to the dummy."
To keep them in their place, the dummies have a strap with Velcro that goes under the chair. "It fills the space," Rifakes says. "There’s nothing worse than going to a restaurant and being the only one in there. This doesn’t feel so lonely."
The first prototype had 3D faces like the bodies. "Originally, they had faces on them, but we thought faces might be a little too creepy," Tibbits says. "It’s one thing to sit next to a cardboard person and another to sit next to one that looked like a person."
And while the media has reported that men are falling in love with their Amazon Echo devices during lock down, no one has eloped with one of the dummies—yet.
"A lot of people want to take them home," Tibbits says. "We’ve joked that people might want them to drive in the carpool lane."
The real purpose, however, is to make it easy on staff so they aren’t constantly telling people they can’t sit six feet closer to another patron. And it’s also a billboard for a brewpub’s selection of beers, especially since beers have both colorful names and labels.
Rifakes said he’s in the process of ordering 30 more dummies, both males and females, for his other restaurants.
Skully Rebels is in the process of talking to others in the hospitality field, plus movie theaters.
Currently the price is determined on the number in the run. For instance, he said, a run of 10 is around $120 per unit, but it can get as low as $30 to $40 for a larger run. The agency is in a 50/50 collaboration with Apropos.
It’s a good opportunity for distributors to put their names on a seated billboard, Rifakes says, but he doesn’t kid himself that the dummies will bring in business—it just makes it easier on staff since so many people ignore the oversized "X" on chairs and table.
"The question is, what do you do with them after COVID?" he asks.
That may be a long way off, but there’s always the opportunity to place them in the passenger seat for the carpool lane.