Unexpected Ways of Eating Are Changing

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When COVID-19 exploded into a global pandemic that more or less shut down everything around the world, restaurants began to seek digital coverage and quickly embrace advance ordering, curbside pickup, options. delivery, altered menus and rewritten business plans – anything and everything they could think of to survive the shutdown and stay alive long enough for customers to come back for dinner.

But what is “normal”?

In these first weeks of the grand reopening, “normal” is a relative term when it comes to dining out in a post-pandemic world where social distancing is the new core value. Consumers certainly want to dine out again: when PYMNTS asked them about the topic, eating out only sees friends and family on the list of reasons to venture out. But there is also a small gap between what consumers want to do and what they will feel safe.

Data shows some consumers are worried about their safety and the safety of others, while others have just gone digital and found they like it a little bit, and don’t feel as drawn to their return to their old life. and physical routines. Why go to a restaurant when the restaurant comes to you?

And so, as restaurants around the world reorient themselves towards the grand reopening of human civilization in the summer of 2020, restaurants have spent the last few weeks getting really inventive when it comes to bringing consumers to their homes. doors.

Really, really inventive. Because while all kinds of restaurants have taken this opportunity to reconsider their operations and the role digital will play, things like delivery, contactless payments, and app-based orders get absolutely zero points for creativity. At this point in the game. These things have just become table stakes in the post-pandemic food industry – not the kind of out-of-the-box innovations they would have been just five years ago.

No, the last few weeks have seen a kind of creativity that goes beyond the limits of simple technology upgrades and payment enhancements to make consumers feel more secure in their dining choices. We’d call them “out-of-the-box,” but for the fact that so many of these ideas involve putting customers in a box – or at least a bubble – to increase their culinary enjoyment in the safest possible environment.

These days, the pressure is on restaurants of all types to dig deep and really serve something new. And we are not talking about the food.

Pool noodles, inner tube tables and a bubble for each guest

The fact that restaurants have redesigned the on-site dining experience since the start of the pandemic is no exaggeration. It was in the early days of the takeover a month ago when PYMNTS reported on Schwerin, the Rothe cafe in Germany, which combined the innovations of eating out and tying pool noodles to the head. of customers to help them meet the strict social distancing guidelines needed to reopen. Keeping people within five feet of each other is harder than it looks, cafe owner Jacqueline Rothe explained – and a strategically used pool noodle ended up being exactly what they wanted. needed.

“It was the perfect method of separating clients – and a fun method,” she said.

And, fascinatingly, the inner tube hats weren’t the only attempt by Germany to use giant headgear to help enforce social distancing. Burger King stores in all German cities have tested giant sombrero-shaped wreaths designed to prevent people from standing within 1.5 meters of each other. This appears to be a more positive way to encourage social distancing than the company’s attempt in Italy, which saw them triple the onions on what they called the “Social Distance Whopper,” guaranteed to ruin the breath of life. ‘a customer.

And while Germany seems to have all the silly hat-based security measures, restaurateurs around the world are getting creative in helping their guests feel safe and well separated from each other when they dine at the restaurant. inside.

At HAND restaurants in Paris, France, for example, staff have hung giant, transparent plastic shade-shaped shields designed by Christophe Gernigon that patrons can sit under while they eat. According to the artist, the design aims to create the feeling that diners are eating in a safe, but non-restrictive, floating protective bubble.

What if a floating bubble of protection in Paris doesn’t feel safe enough, and a top-of-the-head pool noodle in Germany looks a little outrageous?

No problem: head to the Netherlands, where the waterfront vegan restaurant and bar Mediamatic ETEN has turned greenhouses into outdoor pods for individual parties for up to three diners. Servers wear transparent 3D printed PPE face masks and never enter pods directly – they hand over items from the outside to ensure safety. health and the safety of guests and staff.

And if you’re still desperate to dine out, but for some odd reason you’re not very excited about hopping on a transatlantic flight to feel safe while doing so, there is also options here in the United States.

Head to Ocean City, Maryland’s Fish Tales Bar & Grill, for the chance to sit in the center of a table specially commissioned for a table that houses patrons in giant air chambers. Once centered in a tube table, the restaurant will be six feet from all other diners (also in their tube tables) at all times – although the tables are movable, so diners can bump into one another.

“It’s like a big walker,” Fish Tales co-owner Shawn Harman told NPR’s morning edition. “There’s a large tractor inner tube that surrounds a donut-shaped counter. You’re basically standing in the middle of the donut hole.”

It remains to be seen how long donut hole tables will remain in use, as they have been adopted as a fun novelty in hopes of attracting consumers looking to feel safe.

“It’s the kind of original thinking you have to do to survive now,” Harman noted.

And dining out isn’t the only place where a little wacky creativity pays off. There are loads of restaurants doing takeout at this point to survive – but only McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin ‘in New Orleans does it with a fried chicken zipline, The Times-Picayune reports.

At McHardy’s, the customer walks in and controls remotely, with staff members on the other side of a plexiglass barrier. Then a long-handled basket is extended and customers can deposit their payment. The transaction is processed and the order is prepared before it is placed in a bag and basket and attached to a miniature pulley system that sends the order down the chicken ‘zipline’. On his arrival, the customer unclips it and continues on his way to taste his chicken. Not only is the method safer, owner Rahman Mogilles told the local newspaper, but people really like to get their chicken through the pulley system.

“They ask me to use it, then ask a friend to take a video,” Moguilles said. “We hope people see them and that it leads other places to think outside the box. If people see us doing this, maybe it’s forcing them to stop and think about making a plan for themselves and what they can do.

In fact, it looks like nationwide delivery locations are getting a little smarter and cuter to leverage consumer safety concerns to generate more business. Granted, a chicken pulley system is pretty much the gold standard of creative on-the-go concepts, but at Notch Modern Kitchen and Bar in Lehigh Valley, Pa., orders come with a hand sanitizer pen, while Clutch Coffee Bar in Mooresville, North Carolina, added reusable cloth masks to its drive-thru menu.

And Dear John in Los Angeles has redesigned its steakhouse menu for takeaway customers by offering what they call “TV dinners” served in campy aluminum platters from a bygone era, with a recipe list based on mic meals. -waves of the past. Pepper Steak, Salmon, Chicken Parm and Salisbury Steak are all served with sides, a Caesar salad and a cheesecake for dessert. According to reviews, the main thing that separates Dear John’s dishes from the 60’s microwave meals is that they taste really good.

It remains to be seen how many of these outraged culinary innovations manage to stick around. In a certain sense, it’s hard to imagine that consumers will want to wear pool noodles on their heads, get their fried chicken via a zip line, or eat in a protective bubble for the indefinite future. Unlike digital ordering and contactless payments, bumper tables will likely have a somewhat shorter shelf life among consumers. We just don’t see giant crown-brerros becoming the hat trend that defines the 2020s.

But eat in a waterfront greenhouse, or enjoy a Salisbury steak with a three-pepper brandy sauce, whipped potatoes and a pea-carrot mix? It doesn’t sound too bad – even on the wonderful day the COVID-19 virus officially changes from an active threat to an unpleasant memory.

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NEW PYMNTS DATA: TODAY’S SELF-SERVICE PURCHASE JOURNEY – SEPTEMBER 2021

On: Eighty percent of consumers want to use non-traditional payment options like self-service, but only 35 percent were able to use them for their most recent purchases. Today’s Self-Service Shopping Journey, a PYMNTS and Toshiba Collaboration, analyzes more than 2,500 responses to find out how merchants can address availability and perception issues to meet demand for self-service kiosks.

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