As the US begins to re-open state by state, restaurants will look, feel, and operate differently than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, with many of the changes and trends we’ve seen likely becoming permanent. Restaurants will now have the added responsibility of making their guests feel safe, beyond more visible cleaning procedures, personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, for employees, and social distancing, and technology via contactless innovations can help assure guests they’re safety is top of mind:
- Contactless Payments: Contactless payment, more commonly known as tap-and-go payments, is a secure method of purchasing products or services that’s done by tapping a credit card, debit card, or phone synched to the mobile wallet (such as Apple Pay, Android Pay or Google Wallet) to a card reader using RFID or NFC technology to transmit the payment information. In the past, the U.S. has been slow to adopt contactless payments, but the pandemic has accelerated growth, as it eliminates the exchange of the card between guest and employee and completely eliminates the need for the consumer to touch a card reader.
- Curbside Pick-up and Delivery: Curbside pick-up and delivery options increased in the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and will continue to be an important strategy moving forward. And while third-party delivery apps such as GrubHub, Uber Eats and Postmates have come under questioning recently due to their fees, for many restaurants, these apps provide the opportunity to expose these small business to a wider range of customers. In an effort to help their users “support local,” Facebook and Instagram partnered with several of these apps to launch an “order food” profile button and story sticker that when used, links directly to the restaurants’ app menu for ordering. These options create a frictionless experience for guests, allowing them to still dine with their favorite restaurants without having to dine-in.
- Subscriptions and Meal Kits: Subscriptions and meal kits are another rising trend to come out of the pandemic. Subscription services, such as Panera’s new monthly MyPanera Coffee, allow consumers to pay a flat-fee for access to products or services. Guests have already made the investment in buying the subscription but can double down on incentivization by coupling it with curbside pick-up to provide a frictionless, contactless experience that adds value. During the height of the stay-at-home orders, meal kits, like pizza-making or pasta kits, were a way for restaurants to continue operating by providing ways loyal guests can get their favorite food menu items from the comfort of their own home. Moving forward, they’ll continue to provide value for guests by providing quality food while minimizing contact with employees and the public.
- QR Code Digital Menus: QR codes are matrix barcodes that can read by a smartphone to quickly disseminate information, in this case a restaurant menu. Across the country, restaurants like Ruth’s Chris and Denny’s are quickly adopting this technology to provide a digital menu for guests that can be accessed via their smartphones, eliminating the use of shared menus.
- Reservations: Reservations will play a larger role in the dining experience than they ever have. Many restaurants are making it a requirement to make a reservation in order to dine-in, as it will allow them to have control over how many guests arrive and when, which will be especially important given reduced seating and enhanced cleaning procedures. In an effort to minimize guests’ exposure and turn over tables quickly, some restaurants are experimenting with requiring guests to place their order at the time of reservation so their meal is ready soon after they arrive while others are asking guests to wait in their car until their table is ready, receiving notification by phone to eliminate the need for shared buzzers and avoid crowded vestibules.
As we move forward, restaurants can adopt some or all of these strategies, but ultimately, contactless innovations will help guests feel safer.