A focus on delivering contactless experiences remains paramount for success in the near and long-term.

With news from Europe that many countries have entered a second lockdown increasing the threat of a similar situation in the U.S., restaurants across the country are once again preparing for the possibility that they will have to close their doors to in-restaurant dining and recommence off-premise dining only. 

In fact, local governments in states like New Jersey, Minnesota, and California, have already announced new restrictions on opening hours or have required food businesses to shut indoor dining down altogether due to a surge in Coronavirus cases. Meanwhile, even those still able to open are left wondering how they’ll survive the winter as COVID relief talks stall and recent CDC warnings further worries about the dangers of dining indoors. 

However, the determination and innovation of restaurants to stay open during the first lockdown and continue serving their communities safely, prompted other industries to do the same. Their ability to quickly adapt to new regulations, almost overnight, as well as address their customers’ own heightened anxieties around things like health and safety, exemplified a resilience and creativity all businesses fighting this global pandemic can look to for guidance.

For example, curbside pickup options have become ubiquitous since the onset of the pandemic, with millions of Americans expressing their preference to order online or by text and use touchless methods for takeout, so as to alleviate their concerns around contracting the virus in public.

So as we close out 2020 with COVID-19 still very much dominating our daily lives, it’s clear that this focus on delivering contactless experiences that safeguard the health and safety of staff and consumers is paramount for success in the near and long-term, whether it be on or off-premise dining. Here are a few critical areas for restaurants to keep in mind as they remain steadfast, work together and create the contactless dining and takeout experience of the future.

Easing Anxieties with Touchless Indoor Dining

Indoor dining has understandably taken a hit since March, but there’s no denying that it remains a critical component of most food businesses’ success. Whether it’s grabbing a sandwich at lunch or eating out for dinner, in-restaurant dining is a long-standing staple of American culture. Research shows that pre-COVID, Americans dined out 5.9 times per week and spent an average of $3,000 on eating out annually.

With these sentiments in mind, restaurants have been rethinking their operations and implementing new solutions that allow them to deliver enjoyable experiences with limited physical interactions. From QR codes that allow customers to explore digital menus on their smartphones to messaging channels that enable them to communicate with the restaurant, place orders and pay without face-to-face contact, these innovations are paving the way for diners to enjoy the places they love in ways that meet their new concerns. 

For example, as part of their protocols for reopening, restaurants like BJ’s have implemented safety measures that allow mobile ordering and text on arrival for contactless seating. This shows that now and in the post-COVID future, technology will play an integral role in restaurants being able to safely welcome patrons back through their doors.

Scaling Communication for an Unrivaled Curbside Experience

It’s fair to say that despite the impact that in-restaurant dining has on restaurants’ bottom lines, some consumers simply won’t consider it until the threat of COVID is mitigated. Just 38 percent of consumers surveyed by Datassential say they feel comfortable and safe dining inside. 

But with well-communicated safety protocols in place, as well as an investment in contactless technologies that limit the need for in-person contact, it’s worth speculating whether this figure would rise. For example, recent Zingle data shows that 82% of consumers say that it would at least somewhat increase their likelihood of visiting a business if they were to proactively communicate its safety standards and processes.

For the time being, it’s safe to say that contactless takeout and curbside pickup options are restaurants’ most dependable sources of revenue. And since COVID-19 hit, demand for both has reached new heights. Companies like DoorDash and UberEats who offer food delivery services have grown exponentially since the crisis began, with the former now officially going public. But as we stated previously, it’s the uptake in restaurants’ curbside services that has been their biggest success story. And the contactless technology solutions utilized by workers to communicate with customers and keep operations running smoothly is one of the biggest reasons why. 

Namely, restaurants have been leveraging real-time automated text messaging to scale an elevated curbside experience. For instance, staff are utilizing text to confirm orders and send customers their estimated pickup times via text, thus creating a ripple effect that ultimately improves customer satisfaction. This is because when customers know exactly when to arrive to pick up their order, there are fewer bottlenecks from customers who’ve arrived too early or too late. And this, of course, helps restaurants ensure safe social distancing and as a result, eases consumers’ concerns.

It’s hardly a surprise then that the aforementioned Datassential survey found more than half of the U.S. population (52 percent) have got curbside pickup from a restaurant since the onset of the pandemic—substantially more than the number of those who’ve dined indoors and even more than the number of people who’ve had food delivered. And now, even as promising news emerges of a potential COVID vaccine, 87 percent of consumers are voicing their desire for these types of touchless options to stay.

Using Tech to Share the Blueprint for Restauranteurs’ New Future

All signs are pointing toward a future for the restaurant industry where contactless experiences and touchless interactions allow patrons and staff to navigate social distancing and feel safer in their surroundings. Anxiety is still understandably widespread as a result of COVID-19, and how restaurants respond will play a substantial role in alleviating consumer worries as people reach for some semblance of normalcy. 

As such a vital fixture in our everyday lives, and of course as a huge driver of the U.S. economy, all eyes are on the restaurant industry, how they navigate COVID-19 and what they do to drive the future of the hospitality industry.

Having the right technology in place will go a long way toward restaurants’ abilities to serve their customers while social distancing and technology providers across the globe are working hard to support the restaurant industry through this recovery. How you leverage tech today may make the difference for your guests, your staff and for the health of your business.

Ford Blakely is SVP & GM of Medallia Zingle. As a frustrated consumer with an entrepreneurial spirit, Ford sought to figure out an easier and faster way to order his latte in the morning. He didand in 2009 Zingle was born as the first two-way, business-to-customer communication platform. Zingle’s intelligent messaging platform empowers businesses to engage, support, and respond to customers in more meaningful and impactful ways, and deliver exceptional experiences in real time.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology