As difficult as it can be to imagine just how everyday life during this pandemic may look and feel in a month — let alone how we’ll all be getting along years from now — local restaurant, bar and brewery operators don’t have the luxury of sitting calmly to see how things unfold.
As each establishment wrestles with fluctuating occupancy restrictions, concerns for customer safety and operational efficiency have grown more urgent than ever before.
It’s becoming more apparent that new technology will be a key ally in assisting restaurants in navigating the rocky waters of post-pandemic business.
At first, such a concept seems a bit off. In March, following the Dallas County shelter-at-home order, many restaurants urged diners to place to-go orders by calling them directly and picking the food up curbside versus utilizing delivery apps such as UberEats, because of fees that dramatically cut into the restaurant’s revenue.
In a recent article about the emergence of new restaurant tech, Food & Wine noted that “reservation and point-of-service platforms like OpenTable, Tock, SevenRooms and Toast are racing one another to roll out features that position themselves as the must-have toolkit for operators looking to navigate the new normal.”
Joshua Babb, co-founder of Rock Libations, which owns Dallas sushi spot Musume, has been keeping a close eye on technological developments but admits that implementing new tech features and procedures is as much of a fluid situation as anything else right now.
“While I like what I am seeing with newer applications such as Resy,” Babb says, “a restaurant that is excellent but not world-famous, such as Musume, needs a well-known and industry-established brand — OpenTable, that is — to direct new diners to us and keep the loyal ones loyal to us. For that reason, I am trusting, hoping that OpenTable’s response to changing dining trends will benefit us. If not, we will remain open to switching as circumstances continue to change.”
Babb also says he and his team are in the midst of “tweaking delivery and pickup options for diners without sending folks to third-party services,” though Musume will continue to use companies such as UberEats for now.
Rock Libations has also been focusing on developing customer communication methods, with an emphasis on social media and two-way messaging “so people understand their options and can feel as comfortable as possible coming to Musume,” Babb says.
Of all the craft breweries in town, Peticolas Brewing Co. has been one of the best at adapting its business model for the current times in a consumer-friendly manner. The ease and convenience of the Peticolas online order system has proven to be a valuable enough asset to both drinker and brewer: It’s here to stay, even when things go back to some sort of normalcy where curbside is merely one of the options a guest has available to them.
“Once we were able to see how it worked for our curbside drive-thru, it was a no-brainer for us to want to continue once we are open,” says Peticolas taproom manager Shelly Dowlen. “You will be able to place your order online while you are enjoying a flight in the taproom, or you can place it ahead of time if you just want to run in for beer to-go. It also helps to secure a beer that might have limited quantities.”
Not all tech advancements being seen in the food and beverage space are about customer communication and ordering. Ensuring a cleaner, safer dining room is of greater importance than ever.
In addition to new standards for precautionary cleaning and safety, popular steakhouse Al Biernat’s has installed a new high-end air purification system in both of its locations.
According to a news release, the ActivePure system utilizes NASA technology from the International Space Station in its efforts to actively target contaminants both in the air and on surfaces and kill them on contact. The statement claims most air purifiers deal mainly with air pollutants, while this new system attacks both air and surfaces such as tables, countertops and shelves.
As much as the news and statistics surrounding COVID-19 seem to be an ever-revolving, constantly developing mass of information, so too is just how effective, convenient and worthy new technology is for restaurant and bar operators.
Dowlen is ready and open to seeing just where Peticolas’ taproom and its customers can benefit.
“Technology is helping us in new ways daily now,” she says. “It’s a matter of paying attention to what is working and what isn’t in your business and then quickly adapting and making those changes.”