The restaurant industry had to adapt to changes in consumer behavior during the COVID19 pandemic, testing out operational innovations and relying on technological solutions that allowed for social distancing and ensuring sanitation (1, 2). But even after the pandemic, sanitation and safety concerns are expected to remain, and the restaurant business model may have to evolve in a way that utilizes more tech-driven service systems. Here are some upcoming tech trends below:
Social Distancing Tech
With widespread concerns of a pandemic rebound, customers will now be more cautious of eating out in crowded places after the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Restolabs, a restaurant management software that offers online ordering systems, continued social distancing measures are expected to bring about an upward trend of automation for customers (3). New delivery systems are likely to be implemented so that food can be delivered in a faster, more convenient and more hygienic way, like drones and autonomous vehicles launched in some restaurants in California (4). Improved AI could even bring about cashier-less drive thrus—much like Amazon’s cashier-less automated checkout systems (3). According to Technomic, even the automat has returned with renewed interest for restaurants now turning to tech-driven service systems (1).
And clearly, online delivery will start to become an indispensable part of the dining culture as customers dine-in less. More restaurants may pivot to self-delivery instead of third party delivery to mitigate fees and have more control over the safety of their food (5).
Tech for Touchless, Contact-Free Dining
According to Toby Malbec, Managing Director of ConStrata Technology Consulting featured in Hospitality Tech Magazine, higher level of protection and assurance of safety measures are necessary to alleviate customers of their health concerns and persuade them back to dining in (6). Contactless-dining is expected to trend as a result. “Germs can exist on plastic surfaces for several days, and the newly educated customer base will be sensitive to the notion of being handed a menu that could easily be cycled a dozen or so times during this period,” says Malbec (6). “Restaurants should look to providing an option for a guest to pull up the menu on their own device as well as look to leverage digital menu board technology wherever possible.” Anti-Microbial POS Screens and other device surfaces may be another component of using digital menus (3).
Payment solutions will have to change as well. Conventional payment models of cash and plastic credit cards carry a high risk of person-to-person transfer of contagions, and the mitigation of this transfer, according to Malbec, can be greatly reduced when restaurants change to contactless solutions such as EMV, tap and pay, and mobile wallets (6).
A growing demand for hands-free, no-touch equipment will result from the COVID-19 pandemic (7). Automatic doors, motion-activated faucets, touchless soap dispensers, automatic paper towel dispensers have been around for a while in the restrooms, but these touchless options have only been “grudgingly” adopted elsewhere (6). More hands-free options are likely to become increasingly implemented in the kitchen area, from touchless trashcans, doors, glove dispensers, sauce, to beverage dispensers.
While hands-free equipment and systems may certainly alleviate consumer concerns about the safety of their food and dining environment, operators may find themselves more invested in the health of their employees. Hygiene and sanitizing apps may start to appear in the workplace, as sanitation becomes priority for most restaurant operators. For instance, artificially intelligent cameras will soon make it possible for operators to monitor safe practices and verify whether employees or customers are following critical safety measures, including all front of house, back of house and delivery processes (8). Similarly, time clocks may have come with the ability to conduct a temperature check on employees, either through some biometric means as part of the clocking in process (6). And, though not yet proven to work against COVID-19, some restaurateurs, as those in Atlanta (9), may install high-tech air filtration and sanitation systems such as UV lights to purify and filter the air for the health of their customers and employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer behavior as we know it and it has changed the status quo of what is expected out of restaurants—sanitation, automation or otherwise. “The only way for us in the industry to keep pace is to digitize, modernize and monetize the guest experience,” says Christopher Siefken, the head of technology for Xenial, a Global Payments company that serves over 135,000 restaurant and retail locations in the U.S.(2). By embracing the shift in consumer behavior and implementing technology that consumers demand, operators can reap the benefits of staying ahead of the game while keeping people safe.
(5) “Future of Food Delivery” https://www.goliathconsulting.com/blog/