April 20, 2021 at 10:08PM

As the vaccine rollout progresses, with all U.S. adults now eligible to receive their shot(s) as of Monday (April 19), newly vaccinated consumers are beginning to return to public, indoor spaces such as restaurants and bars. While it may be tempting to think of this return as a sort of “back to normal,” with so many of us eager to turn away from the tragedies and the stress of the past 13 months and re-engage with our pre-COVID routines, our behaviors have of course been permanently changed. For restaurants, many industry experts predict that, even as indoor dining returns, consumers will continue to seek out the lowest contact options, looking to maintain social distance and minimize proximity to those outside their party.

“Everything is going to move to a contact-free solution,” David Litchman, founder of contactless ordering platform BellyMelly, told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “The pandemic has changed us. We are all cautious of what we touch, what we breathe, and what we do. So, anything that promotes a contact-free environment will be a successful strategy for most businesses.”

While it is hardly surprising that this would be the prediction of the founder of a contactless ordering platform, his sentiments are echoed by those on the restaurant side. For instance, Dave & Busters Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Margo Manning said at the start of April that the chain will be “deploying a combination of a new service model, tablets and a mobile web platform to enable a completely contactless order-pay experience” inside of its restaurants.

Similarly, Noodles & Company Chief Executive Officer Dave Boennighausen predicted to Karen Webster in an interview that there will be “fewer areas within a restaurant where you could see any kind of communal contact.” One of the more dramatic changes this will include, compared to pre-COVID dining, is that plexiglass partitions will remain a part of the restaurant experience “for the next year or two.”

In this month’s Delivering on Restaurant Rewards report, created in collaboration with Paytronix, PYMNTS researchers found that about 1 in 5 consumers who are already fully vaccinated would be willing to spend more on food if they could pay with a contactless card in store — a far from majority share, but still a significant portion. Similarly, more than one in four consumers who are “very” or “extremely” likely to get vaccinated said they would spend more for the same feature.

Additionally, the February edition of the PYMNTS QR Code Payments report, created in collaboration with Citcon, notes that Tom Green, manager of policy and government relations for Australia’s Restaurant & Catering Industry Association, recently predicted that QR codes will continue to be widely deployed in the future. Given the country’s effectiveness at containing the virus and the degree to which its residents have been able to enjoy public life, Green has a unique view into what life will look like when contagion is no longer a top-of-mind concern.

The report also notes that consumers have already expressed a preference for contactless mobile in-restaurant technologies. For instance, November study of U.S. diners found that 45 percent of consumers prefer to view menus, place orders and pay for their meals over the phone rather than by interacting with a server when dining amid the pandemic, and 40 percent said they will continue this practice even after the crisis ends. While contactless ordering may not be a top priority for every restaurant customer in the near future, there will remain significant demand from many of the more contagion-conscious consumers, and restaurants that offer these technologies will have the competitive edge as consumers return to indoor dining.


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