COVID-19 has changed how the foodservice world operates. Many restaurants and dining establishments are looking to implement new innovations heading into 2021. One trend gaining traction is touchless technology. Whether it's in the form of sinks or payment, hands-free solutions could be part of the new normal even in a post-COVID world.
As the demand for contactless options continues to grow, you don't want your business on the outside looking in. Below are some touchless solutions for restaurants, cafeterias and other foodservice establishments to explore going forward.
1. Mobile Payment
This is by no means a "new" trend. Starbucks added mobile payment to their app nearly a decade ago, and other fast food places, such as Chipotle and McDonalds, followed suit. But aside from a handful of industry giants and local establishments, most places are still behind on mobile pay.
This could change as more businesses look to adding more hands-free options. Mobile pay lets patrons transfer money by scanning or swiping their screen. This speeds up transactions, helping you move the line quickly and avoid crowding near the register. With hand hygiene becoming a major point of emphasis, this also keeps patrons and staff from exchanging cash, change and cards frequently.
There are a wide variety of payment apps on the market, so try to be flexible and incorporate multiple options. The heaviest hitters are Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and PayPal, but options like Square Cash, Zelle and Venmo are growing in popularity and might be worth exploring as well. As long as your POS platform is up to date, adding mobile pay only requires a software upgrade and compatible smartphones or tablets.
2. Hands-Free Sinks and Dryers in Bathrooms
Bathrooms have been trendsetters in terms of touchless. Over the years, hands-free fixtures have found their ways into restrooms, letting patrons simply swipe their hands to turn on sinks, dispense soap or dry hands. This helps reduce the number of times a person touches handles and other surfaces throughout this space.
If you're looking to transition your bathrooms into a mostly touch-free zone, below are some options to consider:
Hands-free faucets – These use a sensor works to signal the faucet valve to turn on when your hands come near the lip of the spout. The sink turns off once hands are moved away.
Automatic soap dispensers – Like hands-free faucets, automatic soap dispensers use a sensor to pump soap into your hands. You can opt for individual dispensers or install solutions directly into the countertop.
Motion-activated paper towel dispensers – When you place your hand underneath the motion sensor, a piece of paper towel is automatically dispended.
Hands-free sanitizer dispensers – Outside the restroom, consider setting up a sanitizer stand with a hands-free dispenser.
Auto-flush toilets – Using sensory technology, the toilet automatically flushes shortly after you stand up from the toilet seat.
You might be wondering why electric hand dryers were left off the list. While they use sensory technology, they might not be the best solution in terms of hand hygiene. According to a 2012 review from Mayo Clinic, most studies found paper towels are more effective at drying hands, removing bacteria and causing less contamination than electric dryers.
Also, what about the door handle? Is there any way to make that touchless? Yes. In fact, below is a solution to consider implementing for each door in your building.
3. Hands-Free Door Openers
We've seen hands-free doors for years. Many grocery stores and office buildings have automatic sliding doors that slide open as you walk toward them. However, you don't have to go to that extreme. Automatic sliding doors are costly and a logistical nightmare for smaller spaces. Fortunately, there are simpler touchless solutions available.
Forearm and foot openers let you open doors without having to touch the handles. Forearm options mounted near the handle let you place your forearm into a metal grove to pull the door open. Foot-pull door openers use a similar method. Installed at the bottom of the door, you place your foot inside the groove to open the door. Consider installing both openers to give patrons an option. Some might not feel comfortable placing an uncovered forearm into the metal groove.
4. Automated and Smart Equipment
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the concept of an automated commercial kitchen. While not common place yet, smart equipment has popped up in the foodservice industry over the last 10 years. For instance, automated prep solutions continue to hit the market. Like assembly line robots at an automotive plant, these robotic arms can slice, dice, stir and mix without human intervention. You really can't get more touchless than that.
Some robotics companies have taken it a step further recently. In the last calendar year, we've seen an enhanced automated salad maker and a robotic pizza-making station hit the market. Keep in mind that many of these are newer innovations, so they might not be buttoned up to perfection. Not to mention, the price might be a bit steep as well. Still, there are other, more affordable pieces of cooking equipment you can invest in first.
For instance, certain fryer manufacturers have developed automatic oil-management systems that allow staff to avoid touching hot oil. There also are griddles available that automatically adjust the upper and lower grill plates throughout the grilling process, assuring food reaches proper temperature and cook settings. These types of units offer a hands-free, automated solution in your kitchen, while also reducing downtime and increasing both energy efficiency and even cooking.