Restaurants looking to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic should consider a series of contactless ordering and payment technologies that will help bring customers back in a secure and healthy environment.
As states reopen from their Covid-19 shutdowns, restaurants are looking for ways to make their guests feel safe. One of the best ways to do this is through the introduction of contactless technology. With public health top of mind, consumers are becoming more wary of anything that involves physical contact and are opting for ways to engage without touching anything.
Here are six contactless innovations that restaurants can implement now.
Contactless Payments have been around for a while. Nearly half (47%) of American consumers expect to use contactless payments this year. Guests download an app, such as ApplePay or the Google Wallet, then simply tap that app to a card reader using near field communications (NFC) to transfer the payment information. This eliminates the exchange of the card between consumer and employee as well as the need for the consumer to touch the card reader.
QR codes, or Quick Response codes, are matrix barcodes that can be read by a smartphone to quickly communicate information – such as a digital menu – to the device. Both Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and Denny’s have adopted QR codes as a way to eliminate the exchange of physical menus between guests and servers. Instead, they’ve placed QR codes on each table that guests can use to access the menu on their own phones.
Many of today’s smartphones can automatically read QR codes through the camera. Those that don’t have this feature can easily read the QR code through an app – either a proprietary app from the restaurant that has that capability, or through third-party QR code reading apps, which are free and easily accessible.
Curbside Pickup eliminates the need for guests to come into the store. It proved effective during the pandemic and will continue to be an important piece of the puzzle even after restaurants reopen.
When Starbucks opened the majority of its US-based stores in May, many of those stores opted to accept order and payment through the mobile app only. Guests pick up their drinks from a barista at the door and don’t need to venture inside the store at all.
Some brands, like Panera Bread, are even taking it a step further, making it as convenient as possible for the consumer. In a new feature the restaurant is just rolling out, Panera has used geofencing to alert store employees when a guest who ordered curbside pickup has arrived.
If the guest has opted in to the automatic notification system, they can place an order on the Panera app and enter the details of their vehicle into the “special instructions” field. When they arrive on site, Panera’s wi-fi will automatically detect their phone and alert the employees to their arrival. Guests who don’t opt into this feature can tap an “I’m here” button instead.
Subscriptions and Meal Kits — Earlier this year, Panera Bread rolled out a new $8.99/month, all-you-can-drink coffee subscription service. Coupled with curbside delivery, it gives guests a reason to continue to choose Panera every time they crave coffee – because they’ve already made that investment.
Meal kits also took off during the coronavirus shutdown with restaurants offering kits that guests could finish assembling at home. Meal kits not only hold some degree of novelty, but they also minimize contact between the restaurant and the food, which may offer comfort to guests who are nervous about virus transmission, while still providing the guest with a high-quality, low-effort meal.
Reservations allow restaurants to control how many guests arrive and when, which will be especially important for restaurants juggling reduced seating and enhanced cleaning procedures, which will mean flipping a table takes longer than it used to.
In Italy, a few Burger King locations are testing reservation requirements, where guests place their order online and reserve a table before they arrive.
Those restaurants that continue to welcome walk-ins should consider ways to keep guests safe until they reach their table. At Outback Steakhouse, guests may be asked to wait in their cars until their table is ready to avoid crowded vestibules. These restaurants notify guests via text message when their table is ready, which eliminates “buzzers” that have to be disinfected between guests.
Loyalty programs, which can easily be contactless,also are proving to be critical to restaurants’ success. Data collected by Paytronix from the earliest weeks of the shutdown show that guests who were enrolled in loyalty programs continued visiting those restaurants at a much higher rate than those who were not in loyalty programs. Ultimately, loyalty programs are an opportunity to cultivate guest relationships and collect data that allow restaurants to conduct more efficient target marketing and advertising to drive profits.
In the current climate, guests might be wary of handing a rewards card to a cashier, or they might not want to take the extra step of using their card if they are paying with a mobile wallet. Restaurants should consider adopting technology to facilitate contactless loyalty transactions that enable guests to pay and swipe their loyalty card with a single tap of their phone.
Panera and Jimmy John’s are currently using this technology and have been able to seamlessly link their loyalty programs so that guests can both pay and swipe their loyalty cards with a mobile wallet. At Jimmy John’s, guests can do this in a single tap. In addition to creating a touch-free experience, the technology also automatically prompts guests to enroll in the loyalty program if they haven’t already.
Contactless loyalty technology increases the likelihood that guests will stay active in the program. It also makes it easy for the guest to use their rewards and perks, so they don’t forget about them and continue to see the value they are getting out of the program.
With public health top of mind, guests will seek out brands where they feel safe – and for many, that means a contactless experience. Some restaurants may adopt all of this, or portions; but guests will need to feel safe, and for some, that might mean coming as close to a contactless dining experience as possible.