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Creating a Touchless Restaurant Experience Post-Coronavirus

June 8, 2020
QR Code Menu

This may sound dramatic, but it’s true: The world will never be the same.

According to a recent survey, around 37% of U.S. citizens won’t resume activities like they did before the outbreak of COVID-19. 

That has profound implications for the hospitality industry. Restaurant cleanliness was already one of the most important factors in guests’ dining choices. But where cleanliness was once a nice-to-have, it’s now an absolute necessity.

Guests are not only looking for germ-free dining. They’re also looking for a restaurant who is actively communicating that they take post-coronavirus hygiene seriously. Creating a touchless end-to-end dining experience does just that.

It not only makes your bar or restaurant safe, but it gives your customers confidence that it will be when they visit. There won’t be much experimenting going forward. Your guests don’t have the luxury to try and fail. They want restaurants to be safe, and they want to be sure about it.

A contactless restaurant experience delivers that. From tightening up reservations to utilizing a touchless menu, here’s how to get there.

Seamless Reservations

Reservations are contactless, in theory. But in practice they often involve guests showing up at the host or hostess stand and congregating in a waiting area. That’s the exact opposite of what people want to do now. 

But managing reservations isn’t easy. You’d like to accommodate walk-ins, of course. But not keep too many tables open for them and lose sales on reservations turned away. It’s also hard to anticipate when a party will be finished and the table can be turned. Here’s a few tips on making your reservation operation seamless (and contactless).

Decrease No-Shows

It’s estimated that up to 20% of reservations are no-shows. For a restaurant trying to forecast traffic and react accordingly, that’s a ridiculous inconvenience.

One way to combat phantom diners is to touch base with every reservation the day of their visit. This can be an automated confirmation email or text message that your reservation software offers. Or a manual phone call or text asking them for confirmation.

The second way to reduce no-shows is to not take reservations too far in advance. The probability that a party doesn’t show up is directly proportional to how far out they made their reservation. Unless you’ve got a Michelin star, 2 or 3 weeks out is about as far in advance as you should accept.

Book Tables Strategically

If your bar or restaurant has decent reservation software, you’ve been creating huge amounts of historical data about your diners. Average dining time per table and average dining time by party size are immensely helpful when spacing bookings.

Anyone who takes reservations at your restaurant should be familiar with these numbers. Which is why it’s usually smart to delegate reservation-taking to a select few employees who are aware of the strategy. Then roll out some hard-and-fast rules about spacing. If you only have 90 minutes for an 8-top and historical data says 8-tops spend an average of 2 hours dining, offer the party another time slot.

Use Text-When-Ready

There will inevitably be times when customers are milling about your space because their tables aren’t ready. Ideally you tell them they’ll be alerted when their table is ready and they can leave. They give you the number to contact (or you already have it from the reservation) and you get in touch with them when the time comes.

This used to be done using restaurant pager systems, but nobody wants to hold on to a public buzzing device. The post-coronavirus version of this is simply texting or calling customers when the table’s up. Alternatively, some reservation systems will automate this and send the text themselves.

All of these are easier with table management and reservation software, which are some of the most useful pieces of restaurant technology.

Touchless Menus

Paper menus are, hands down, the single filthiest thing on restaurant tables. With about 185,000 germs per square centimeter, paper menus are about 16 times dirtier than the 2nd dirtiest thing on tables, pepper shakers.

The solution is using a QR code for a restaurant menu

This is the most easily deployed contactless solution on this list. And it tackles a restaurant’s biggest obstacle to germ-free dining. Rolling out a contactless menu is a complete no-brainer. And it can be any type of menu. There is no constraint on the amount or format of the content.

Here’s how it works. You publish your menu online. Then you associate the URL with a scannable QR code. When someone scans it with their phone, the touchless menu pops up. There is no touching, only scanning. It’s a 100% touchless, contactless restaurant experience.

What’s great about this is that you can put the scannable codes anywhere. On dining room tables, in windows, at the bar, in confirmation emails, on receipts, you name it. Not only is your contactless menu germ-free, but it’s far more accessible and marketable.

A touchless menu also saves you money on paper and printing costs. The National Restaurant Association now recommends that paper menus are discarded after each use. Imagine how quickly that adds up.

Contactless Ordering

Touchless ordering is usually a reality for guests, but not for servers. And those servers do a lot of interacting with guests (and bartenders, bussers, expos, etc.). So a touchless ordering solution for servers benefits everyone in the dining room.

Tablet-driven tableside ordering was taking off in the years before the COVID-19 outbreak, but the excitement around that experience has been tempered. It may no longer make sense to bring a tablet tableside for guests to interact with.

The right solution for today is a truly contactless solution, which tableside mobile ordering never was. Some POS providers are now offering guests the chance to order directly from their phones at their table.

Here’s how. The scannable code we mentioned above isn’t just associated with a menu. Upon scanning, diners are brought to an interactive page where they can actually select menu items and place orders. It’s the next logical step to what we outlined in the menu section, and it delivers a truly contactless restaurant experience.

Touchless Restrooms

A recent survey found that 78% of restaurant guests consider a clean restroom as a strong indicator of a clean kitchen. Restrooms are a big opportunity to fight the spread of germs for obvious reasons. But the less obvious reason is that, as the survey says, they’ve got a strong association with overall cleanliness. And when it comes to revenue, perception is just as powerful as reality.

Contactless restrooms aren’t a new thing. But there are quite a few businesses that have yet to go totally touchless in the water closet. While it’s not hard, it can be fairly pricey. Especially if you’ve yet to install motion-activated devices. There are four primary touchpoints that can be made motion-sensitive. Flushing, soap, faucets, and hand dryers. Every one of these should have a motion sensor going forward.

An easier, maybe more immediate, way to start going touchless in your restroom is with foot-operated door openers.

Contactless Payments

The final point of failure for a restaurant trying to go touchless is payments. The payment process, seen through a post-COVID-19 lens, is a remarkable sequence of germ-swapping.

A check is handed to the customer. The customer gives the server cash or a credit card. The server makes change or runs the card. The server hands it all back to the customer. The customer sorts through the cash and leaves a tip or signs a piece of paper. The server picks it up all up. It’s a pretty substantial back-and-forth handling of items that are surprisingly dirty. Now think about servers and bartenders who do it all day. It’s not a wise approach now.

Instituting contactless payment—using tap and pay or scannable codes—is a reliable and easy way to solve the problem. Touchless credit cards, for example, use EMV chip technology with something called near-field communication (NFC). All a guest has to do is hold the card near a sensor and payment is processed.

The majority of major credit card issuers in the U.S. have switched to contactless cards with this technology. All bars and restaurants have to do is acquire the card reader, which all modern POS providers already offer. Then a server walks up to a table and guests flash their cards in front of the card reader.

Likewise, a scannable code can bring a customer to a payment portal instantly. And, in either scenario, if a customer desires, a receipt can then be emailed to them.

A Touchless Future

“A touchless future” sounds grim, but in the context of restaurants, it’s anything but. By taking control of reservations, digital menus, restrooms, and payments, hospitality can do two massive things.

One, they can literally stop and slow the spread of infectious disease. Two, they can align themselves with post-coronavirus consumer expectations, which are rightfully very high.

Almost two-thirds of diners support no physical menus as a rule of thumb for bars and restaurants to follow. Customer expectations are set. We, as an industry, should deliver on them. One step to take is utilizing a digital wine list. It’s an inexpensive, agile way to tighten up your restaurant’s hygiene and give guests what they want: a germ-free experience.