COVID-19: Small Restaurants and Technology, May 2020
Small restaurants are using technology during the COVID-19 crisis to manage their reservation systems to be in compliance with new reopening guidelines, to encourage social distancing with virtual waitlists, and to revamp their entire dine-in service to be contact-free.
While examples were plentiful, since the technology solutions described below focus on restaurants using technology to reopen safely during the Coronavirus pandemic, and restaurants have only just begun to reopen, data on the frequency of use of these technologies was very limited.
Adapting Reservation Systems
- As restaurants are allowed to reopen, many restaurants are being required to collect more information on guests in the event that contact tracing needs to be carried out. Additionally, most restaurants are requiring reservations for all types of dining — including bars and wineries — which typically did not require reservations prior to the outbreak. Lastly, reservations are being more limited due to seating capacity limits.
- As these new reservation requirements emerge, online reservation platforms are expanding to add new services that meet these requirements. For example, Resy, a reservation platform owned by American Express, is offering a new feature, Automated Capacity Monitor, that "allows restaurants to set a capacity limit — say 50% — on their dining room to help ensure they don’t exceed occupancy regulations."
- Ben Leventhal, the co-founder and CEO of Resy, states that there has been an increase in the number of restaurants interested in using the Resy platform "both as a means to operate more safely and at limited capacity and for more visibility."
- Another example is from Juliet Italian Kitchen in Austin, Texas, which now requires reservations for all seats in the restaurant, whereas before they only required reservations for some sections. General Manager Emily O'Connor describes the reason for this change: "Reservations also help us regulate the amount of people we have at the restaurant at one time and allow us to ensure we are maintaining social distance."
- As restaurants reopen with social distancing guidelines in place, allowing customers waiting for a table to congregate near the door is no longer an option. Thus, some restaurants are turning to technology like virtual or mobile waitlists, so customers can leave or sit in their cars to wait for a table, and be automatically notified.
- Reservation platforms like Resy are adapting to this new requirement by adding Mobile Waitlist features, which "allows diners within close proximity of a restaurant to join a live waitlist and reduce host stand + bar area crowding."
- In quarter 1 of 2020, Yelp saw growth in their Yelp Waitlist and Yelp Reservations subscription services: "service revenues rose 28% to $7 million on growth of Yelp Waitlist and Yelp Reservations subscription revenues."
- Restaurants are using technology to adapt their service model for touch-free service, including online or app ordering, ordering via smart menu, pay-at-the table terminals, and even placing orders and paying at the time of making a reservation.
- For some restaurants, implementing these technologies may mean needing to implement or improve their WiFi connectivity throughout their establishments — even to reach outside dining or ordering areas.
- The Hawaii state Department of Health encourages restaurants to "consider allowing customers to pre-order while making reservations to decrease the length of time they are in the establishment."
- Touchless payment operators are hoping to attract new clients by capitalizing on the desire for contactless transactions. For example, OneDine is offering their "Touchless System of Tap & Order and Tap & Pay for free to all restaurants in response to the pandemic."
- Many restaurants are going cashless, for example, Call Your Mother, a restaurant in DC, added "a new card reader so that guests can pay without handing over their credit cards."