As the COVID-19 case rollercoaster begins once again, countless questions begin to surface. Can restaurants survive this rise in cases? Will states choose to ban indoor dining once again? Will cases only continue to increase as summer turns into fall and then winter?
These are valid questions, even with vaccinations now available, as the restaurant industry is at the topic of the list for industries that have suffered over the last 18 months. Can they continue to survive the ongoing pandemic? Will those that survive thrive afterward?
Although it’s been an uphill battle for many restaurants, their possibility of survival still exists, especially if the restaurant arms itself with the right innovations and tools. Here’s how restaurants can survive after COVID-19.
Top Innovations for Restaurants Post-COVID-19
Restaurant survival post-COVID-19 is all about making customers feel safe. These days, this primarily relates to avoiding physical contact as much as possible. Before the pandemic, going out to eat used to require a lot of face-to-face contact. From the moment you entered the restaurant, you were surrounded by servers and wait staff. You received a physical menu and a bill. Someone took your order in person and stopped by your table frequently to meet any potential needs.
Additionally, while to-go orders were possible, restaurants didn’t have as many options were takeout, and thus the dining experience was limited to the dining room itself. Fortunately, nearly all these things can change with the introduction of the right technology, and it’ll not only make the restaurant more efficient, but it’ll help everyone feel safe and at ease while dining at restaurants moving forward.
- Contactless payments
Whether restaurants are looking to stay open during this next wave of COVID cases, or they want customers to feel confident in their safety while dining with them, one of the best ways to do that is by minimizing person-to-person contact. One of the easy times that they can pinpoint contact is during payment.
Typically, a server will bring over the check and wait for the customers to provide either cash or a card for the amount due. Then, the server must go back to the cash register to get change or run the provided card. The customer will then proceed to tip after the server brings the check back to them.
Working to eliminate this exchange and its numerous steps allows everyone involved to reduce contact. Contactless payments, such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet, have become popular ways to speed payment up. Once guests download the app and input their information, they simply need to tap their phones to the card reader using near field communications (NFC) to transfer the payment information. This method eliminates the exchange of the card between the customer and employee as well as the need to touch quite as many materials in the process (check booklet, card, pen, etc.).
Now, as not every patron has Apple Pay or Google Wallet, some restaurants have even gone a step further to put all their payment information online at a link or QR code. All the servers must do is print a bill with a QR code, and then customers can pay right at their table. We’ll talk about QR codes and their role in the survival and success of restaurants in the next section.
- QR codes
QR, or Quick Response, codes have been all the rage since the pandemic started. They’re matrix barcodes that can be read by a smartphone’s camera to quickly communicate information. From digital menus to billing information, QR codes are an easy way to eliminate the physical exchange of information.
If there’s one restaurant change that’s likely to stay around after the pandemic is long gone, it’s his one. Restaurants simply place QR codes on each table so that guests can scan the menu or any other necessary information on their phones. As just about everyone has a smartphone, just about everyone can immediately access a copy through their camera. On the off chance that your phone’s camera doesn’t easily read the QR code, you can also download a free app that allows you to scan and view.
- Curbside pickup
The threat that COVID-19 poses to all of us is greatly heightened by in-person transmission, especially indoors. Having curbside pickup options eliminates this risk by preventing guests from coming into the restaurant’s space at all while still giving the restaurant itself business.
Some fast-casual restaurants like Panera are making curbside pickup a convenient new option for their customers. Geofencing alerts let Panera employees know when guests have arrived to pick up their meal. All the guest has to do is opt into the automatic notification system in the Panera app and then enter their vehicle details in the “special instructions” field.
Once the customer arrives, Panera’s wi-fi will automatically detect their phone and alert the employee that they have arrived. If guests opt out of this feature (or simply do not opt in), then they can tap the “I’m here” button to notify employees of their arrival.
This type of system allows restaurants to continue to serve consumers regardless of in-person restrictions. It demonstrates that the one true priority is serving customers regardless of the new challenges. While Panera is a North American chain that has numerous resources, neighborhood restaurants have taken on a similar system of placing online orders for curbside pickup. All customers have to do is call into the store once they’ve arrived, and they can have food and drink delivered right to their car door.
While reservations have long been required in the restaurant industry for some locations, this feature is even more important post-COVID-19. It allows restaurants to control how many guests arrive and when which assists with any reduced seating or enhanced cleaning procedures that are now in place. Furthermore, restaurants now have better waitlists and reservation systems in place that notify guests via text message rather than using the physical “buzzers” that would require disinfection.
The above methods are just a few of the ways that restaurants can and will survive the aftermath of COVID-19. Some others that restaurants are now implementing are meal kits and loyalty programs. While it may take more thought than it would have previously, it’s worth it for both employees and customers to feel comfortable dining out after all that’s come with the pandemic.