Consumers were demanding a more frictionless dining experience long before COVID-19 hit. But in the age of social distancing, reducing human contact has become more of a necessity than a convenience. Here are five low- or no-contact dining ideas restaurants and suppliers are implementing to serve diners more safely.
Patricia Cobe contributed to this report.
A new concept that opened this month in New York City claims to be the first to offer a “zero human interaction” experience with its revival of the automat format.
Customers of Brooklyn Dumpling Shop can place orders via their phone or hands-free kiosks in the restaurant. The food is prepared and placed in a temperature-controlled cubby, and guests receive a notification when it’s ready. They then unlock the cubby with a smartphone app to retrieve their food.
The concept, which uses proprietary technology, offers a selection of dumplings, spring rolls, beverages and desserts.
Touchless fountain service
The pandemic has forced many restaurants to close self-serve areas such as buffets and beverage fountains. But The Coca-Cola Co. has offered a solution with its new contactless Freestyle machine.
Customers can use their phone to select and pour a drink by scanning a QR code on the dispenser display. The new technology is being tested at some Wendy’s, Five Guys and Firehouse Subs locations in Atlanta this summer.
The software will be pushed to 10,000 Freestyle machines this summer, and all dispensers will be contactless-compatible by the end of the year, Coca-Cola said.
'Be the first to touch your burger'
While many operators built makeshift takeout windows and open-air counters in their stores to accommodate the demand for carryout, Creator Burger’s is one of the most high-tech solutions.
The San Francisco concept built an automatic, pressurized, contactless conveyor belt and pickup window using plans open-sourced from the internet. The system takes the risk out of virus spread by moving the food from kitchen to customer without any contact.
Creator also uses a robot to make its burgers and heat-seals each order in an airtight bag, further limiting human contact with the food. The restaurant promoted the efforts with the tag line “Be the first to touch your burger.”
A host of software suppliers including Snackpass, Lunchbox Technologies, CardFree and others have developed digital menus using QR code technology. Customers can scan a code with their phone to view the menu, order and pay, without having to download an app. It eliminates the need for a waiter to visit the table multiple times, reducing human contact in the restaurant.
“We think the QR code is the lowest-friction and best customer experience for anyone who doesn’t have an app already,” said Snackpass co-founder and CEO Kevin Tan.
A Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee in Mobile, Ala., is testing contactless delivery via drone.
The franchisee, Potters Wings Mobile, is partnering with drone delivery company Deuce Drones for a demonstration of the delivery system in August.
“Deuce Drone’s expertise in aerospace, construction and technology delivers an innovative solution that could reduce costs and delivery time, while giving customers the option of a truly contactless delivery,” franchisee Brian Jordan said in a statement announcing the test.