As you’ve already heard by now, some U.S. states — notably Georgia and South Carolina — are set to relax their quarantine rules and allow certain non-essential businesses to reopen next week. That includes restaurant dining rooms. We’ve already made some predictions about what those dining rooms will look like, and this week, I got some more intel from tech entrepreneur Bo Peabody, who is on the task force that helped create the reopening guidelines for Georgia restaurants.
Peabody is also the co-founder and chairman of Seated as well as a board member of Boqueria Restaurants and a longtime industry vet. Over the phone this week, he talked through many of the guidelines created by the Georgia task force, which also had involvement from The National Restaurant Association. (You can read The Association’s full guidelines here.)
While many of those guidelines are around implementing social distancing and stricter health practices, Peabody suggested technology also plays a key role. That includes everything from using a text to let people know when their table is ready to implementing digital menus and contactless payment systems.
“We suggest embracing technology wherever you can,” says Peabody, though he admits tech is “a tough one” in terms of a task for restaurants. In particular, contactless payments will prove challenging for many operators. “We suggested contactless payments if you have that in your restaurant. But most restaurants don’t have that technology,” he said.
Contactless payments take many forms. They can happen through an order-ahead system, at a tabletop kiosk, or with a handheld device a la Starbucks. The common denominator in all these technologies is that they eliminate the need for a customer to hand a credit card to a server and vice versa.
‘We’ve been behind in this country at pay at the table,” said Peabody. And to implement any new technology, restaurants need time and money, two things in short supply these days. While restaurant tech companies have been waiving and reducing some costs, restaurants large and small are just busy trying to keep the lights on right now.
One solution could be QR codes. Peabody describes this as every POS company adding the ability for restaurants to include a QR code on the check. When the server brings the bill, the customer can simply scan the QR code with their own phone to pay for their meal. Ideally, the server would be able to split a check multiple ways, just as they can with credit card payments.
He says that Toast is currently rolling out such a system, and that others may do the same soon. In fact, he goes as far as to suggest that by the end of next year, “putting your credit card down will be a thing of the past.”
And while contactless payments will be a challenge until that day, mobile ordering might be even trickier for many restaurants to implement. While we’re quick to praise the efficiency of mobile order systems offered by massive chains like Chipotle and Starbucks, the reality is that those apps cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.
Peabody recommends solving the contactless payments issue before trying to tackle mobile ordering.
Even for those that do look to mobile ordering, developing an expensive in-house solution won’t make sense for most restaurants. A more likely scenario, he says, is that customers will start using apps provided by POS vendors, reservations companies, or even credit card companies to pay for meals.
Before any of that happens, though, we have to actually reopen restaurants. Georgia’s plan for next week will give us some clues. For example, the success or failure of the reopening may give intel into whether we’re putting enough emphasis on basic safety precautions.
It’s also important to note that not every restaurant in Georgia is going to open next week. “For the most part the bigger operators in Atlanta are not going to open on Monday,” says Peabody. “Outside of Atlanta I think you’re going to see a lot more opening. The pressure to open will mount on everybody in Georgia as the days go on.”
Even so, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has already said it will “take additional time” before reopening. Nationwide, Starbucks said its re-openings will be “gradual” and that some stores may just continue as off-premises-focused locations. TGI Fridays has also said it will sit out on this initial reopening phase.
Finally, let’s not forget that experts have warned it is too soon to relax shelter-in-place measures, so it’s entirely possible restaurants that choose to open will face some massive health risks for their workers. If that’s the case, tech may need to take a seat even further in the back.
Peabody believes that long term, more good than not will come in terms of the new developments restaurants have been forced to adopt during this time, technology and otherwise. In the meantime, as Peabody says, “What’s going to happen in Georgia is a dress rehearsal for the country.”