There has been some recent buzz about the use of new ultraviolet lights that reportedly kill viruses and bacteria in the air without harming the body. If effective, they could have broad applications in restaurants, food distribution facilities and beyond. But do they work? Columbia University researchers tested the technology, called far-UVC, over the course of eight months and found that it killed the flu virus (their research was published in Scientific Reports) and their previous tests of the technology against MRSA also reportedly killed the bacteria without harming human tissue. Eater reports that Magnolia Bakery, for one, is replacing their recessed lighting with far-UVC light and also having customers pass through a far-UVC light scanner (akin to passing through a metal detector at the airport) upon entering their facilities to kill virus or bacteria they carry with them. Portable UVC lamps are also on the market. While the research is still new and it’s not clear whether the technology is effective against COVID-19, it promises to offer at least some additional protection in conjunction with other sanitation measures as we approach flu season. Find more background on the pros and cons in this New York Times report: https://bit.ly/2LNaG3t.
In case it wasn’t already clear pre-pandemic, off-premise dining isn’t going anywhere. Since third-party ordering poses ample challenges for operators it’s important to entice customers to order directly from you. Have you thought about how to encourage them to do that in the coming months? You might try incentives like filling every takeout order with a coupon good for a discount off their first direct online order from you, or offering some extra value for signing up for your in-house app (if you want to build your own ordering app, here is one option that may help https://bit.ly/36maBNz). Beyond that, make it as easy as possible for customers to order from you directly. Ensure your business information is accurate and up-to-date – particularly with adjusted hours – on Google. Your ordering button and menu links should be visible as soon as someone loads your webpage. Toast also suggests you find ways to simply make it more interesting to come to you directly – from including a personal thank-you note or small Instagrammable memento in each takeout bag, to selling special merchandise, to offering rotating promotions like Taco Tuesday to-go packages or EBTV (Everything But the Vodka) take-home Bloody Mary kits.
The FDA has relaxed some restrictions (https://bit.ly/2WyQLLP) on the labeling needed for packaged food for sale during the pandemic, but if you are among the operators considering a permanent pivot to retail food product sales, one resource to consider is Verywell Fit ( https://bit.ly/3dG5j1U), a site that allows you to input a recipe’s ingredients, analyze them and create a custom nutrition label for the item. Verywell is a partner of the Cleveland Clinic and its review board consists of board-certified physicians and other health and wellness professionals.
Some of the touch-free technology that is currently allowing for safer payments is providing some side benefits too. The tech firm PopID, which developed technology allowing consumers to link their face to a form of payment, has integrated thermal imaging into its facial recognition technology, Pymts.com reports. As a result, it can take the temperature of anyone entering a business – and perhaps give restaurant guests some peace of mind that the people around them are healthy. The California burger chain CaliBurger, which operates six locations and two D.C.-based food trucks, is beginning to roll out the technology.
While technology had been making sweeping changes to the restaurant industry before the pandemic, expect it to play a transformative role as we emerge from it. Many of the systems and tools that had been nice-to-haves a couple of months ago could now provide the limited physical contact needed to keep your employees and guests safe – and your business running. This doesn’t mean investing in new bells and whistles but it does mean finding ways to maximize the technology you currently have and any additional tools that can be used for free. As the National Restaurant Association’s new report Covid-19 Reporting Guidance advises, update your website and use basic text messages to communicate with guests and staff. Use your email list and social media to provide up-to-date information about your current hours, menu changes, reservations and other information that may be helpful, such as approximate wait times. Of course, contactless payment systems, automated ordering functionality and mobile ordering apps can all help too. Be in touch with your POS system provider to ensure you are fully using all of your system’s functionality and any additional features or support your provider is offering right now. Bo Peabody, a tech entrepreneur who helped create the reopening guidelines for Georgia restaurants, told the Spoon that POS companies might soon take such actions as giving restaurants the ability to add a QR code to their check – a means for a guest to pay for a meal with a quick, contactless scan of their phone. (Paytronix and Sevenrooms recently announced new contactless order and payment capabilities, and the restaurant tech company Presto is offering free contactless dining kits for restaurants while supplies last. The company says the kits can be set up in an hour – and without any contracts or costs.)
If you’re looking for technology help as you reopen, there are deals to be had on everything from third-party delivery to tech platforms as companies look to stand out in the market and rebuild business themselves. One case in point is OpenTable. Even if you haven’t taken reservations before, you may be considering taking them while social distancing requirements call for fewer guests in your restaurant at one time and for more vigilant management of traffic at your building’s entrance. OpenTable just announced its Open Door program, a three-tiered, subscription-based reservations program that provides services at a discount for the remainder of 2020. The program allows operators to access the OpenTable system without subscription fees through the end of the year. Further, there are no cover fees through September 20 and up to 50 percent discounts on cover fees for the fourth quarter of the year. Learn more at https://restaurant.opentable.com/opendoorprogram-2/
Improving your website is another one of those tasks that’s difficult to take on in the midst of the daily rush. Now that business is slower – and technology is all the more important in keeping us connected and informed – take a closer look at your site and identify some areas to improve. First, don’t make people dig for your contact information, address, hours, and your current menu – the information should be easy for people to find with minimal clicks. Then, make it clear how they can order from you. If you deliver (particularly with in-house staff) post a prominent button at the top of your homepage to drive people to that function. Other links at the top of your homepage should connect people to your story/background, rewards program and any merchandise you offer. Of course, your site should be mobile-friendly too so all of this information is easily accessed on a mobile phone. If you’d like to see some websites that work, check out the examples on this page.
Even as businesses begin reopen around the country, they won’t be returning to “business as usual” – at least until a vaccine or other treatment becomes available. As your business pushes through these challenging times, it’s critical to prepare your restaurant for when you do return and ensure that your connections with customers are as strong as possible. What lessons are you learning now that will improve your resilience going forward? What are your customers demanding and how can you deliver on it? Can you be more adaptable and nimble when it comes to your service model, menu, inventory and staffing? How might you implement technology that could facilitate social distancing when you welcome customers back to your dining room? Now is a good time to connect with your regulars and solidify your relationships with them so they can help drive your comeback. At every opportunity, share your story with them on your website and social media – how you got into the business, how you and your employees are coping now, and what it looks like behind the scenes of your restaurant at the moment. If you’re closed right now or operating at a much-reduced capacity, cook a favorite dish at home and livestream it on Facebook or Instagram – or make a quick, quirky video on TikTok (find out how here https://buff.ly/309tO53 ). At a time when most of your customers are at home and looking for ways to connect with the experiences they love, remind them that you’re one of them. Try to look at this time as a period of experimentation – with the social media you use, the stories you share, and the service structure you use – to prepare your business to come back better than it was before.
Our increased reliance on technology to conduct business right now is making cybersecurity all the more important – and not just within your restaurant but throughout your supply chain. When you conduct business with current suppliers and screen new ones, ensure those vendors are protecting against the risk to data they store about your business. Ask them what they are doing at the moment to tighten their security. Where are their weak points and what are they doing to address them? Security patches, multi-factor authentication and increased focus on recordkeeping can all provide some protection at a time when cybercriminals are looking for vulnerabilities.
As technology increasingly infuses organizations in all sectors and 5G becomes more widespread, cyberattacks are becoming a given – not a question of if they will occur but when. Security protections can dissuade cybercriminals but they aren’t airtight, so the actions an organization takes after a cyberattack are critical to getting back on track. It may take months to not only identify the problem in your system but to manage the financial costs, public relations challenges and other business disruptions a breach can cause. A cyber insurance policy may help, particularly for the post-breach protections it offers, including access to digital security experts who can clear your system and help reinforce it against future attacks. An FSR Magazine report says a cyber insurance policy may cost as little as $800 per year, and restaurants with existing firewalls and other protections in place stand to get lower premiums than businesses that haven’t yet taken those steps.