Innovation

Maximising contactless interactions in the post-lockdown environment

Key points

  • Contactless dining set to be a key component of post-lockdown foodservice landscape
  • Customers will be seeking to avoid touching surfaces and minimising ‘up close’ interactions and there are a number of ways to reassure them in this regard
  • You can avoid printed menus by employing smartphone-scannable QR codes which can also be used to capture customer details for contact tracing requirements
  • Expect to see new reservation and POS solutions which provide ‘end to end’ contactless systems while enabling you to track customer preferences and build profiles

 

AS OUR INDUSTRY begins to adapt to a post-lockdown world, pundits are busily predicting what the future foodservice landscape will look like – and ‘contactless dining’ seems set to be a key component.

The groundwork for this has already been laid over the past few months. Any foodservice operation that has pivoted from predominantly offering dine-in to takeaway and delivery in order to survive will have created ‘safe zones’ within its dining areas for customers to wait for their orders while maintaining the required social distancing.

And now as businesses reopen for dine-in, consumers will be looking to be reassured that steps have been taken to ensure their health and safety. Capacity restrictions are still in place, which not only means more space between tables: it’s driving major rethinks of how to best utilise your interior space, such as creating separate pick-up areas for food vs in-room dining.

At the same time, your customers will want to avoid touching public surfaces and be seeking to minimise ‘up close and personal’ interactions. You can help reassure them by getting staff to visibly wipe down and sanitize tables, menus and other surfaces; by providing hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes; and by switching to individually wrapped or portioned cutlery and condiment containers.

Disposable menus are another option, or you can avoid printed menus altogether and instead switch to a QR code on a tabletop card which the customer can scan (without having to touch it) to view your menu on their smartphone. QR code scanning also provides a quick and easy way to capture customer details as per contact tracing requirements – a QR code can take the customer to an online form so they can fill in their contact details using their phone, rather than pen and paper.

Thanks to the ‘tap and go’ PayWave/PayPass chip on most credit and bank cards, any food business equipped with an EFTPOS reader is able to move to contactless payment – and this is fast becoming the norm, with customers shying away from using cash.

One thing that’s likely to change in the wake of COVID is the use of digital tablets for meal ordering – as we move into a ‘no touch’ environment, expect to see a trend towards technology which allows customers to access everything they need to make an order, from menu to payment, on their own device as opposed to a shared one. We may even see customers able to give details of food allergies or dietary requirements to pass on to kitchen staff, all from their table and without interacting with wait staff.

As third party providers start innovating to meet demand, we can expect to see new reservation and POS solutions which provide ‘end to end’ contactless systems while enabling operators to track customer dining preferences, menu favourites and food allergies – enabling you to personalise their dining experience, potentially without even seeing them face to face.

But while contactless interactions are set to become more commonplace, the human element will have to remain at the heart of the dining out experience – or we risk losing a key component of its appeal. People dine out not just for the food but for the interaction with other people and the sense of being part of a community and a culture, of which food is a vital ingredient. We are social beings, and dining out is a social experience – which means our use of technology must serve to enhance the customer’s experience, not detract from it.