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What Comes Next: How tech helps restaurants and stores open safely

In our new series “What Comes Next,” Riley Winn takes a look beyond the current state of COVID-19 at the steps businesses are taking as we move into the next phase of reopening. On this episode, Winn looks into how restaurants and stores will be using different technologies to reopen during the pandemic.

Reducing contact points between humans goes a long way in reducing the spread of viruses, and there are several new technologies based on robotics and automation that may be springing up in a restaurant or store near you. “Maki makes sushi-making robots that not only speed up preparation, but also reduces the human interaction,” Riley notes. “And robots aren’t just making sushi, they’re making coffee too.” In South Korea, cafes are using robotic baristas, and even robot servers to bring food out to the diners’ table.

Waiters won’t be handing out physical menus, and restaurants will boost online menus and reservations using their websites or QR codes. Chipotle, for example, has updated its app where patrons can customize their meals to the finest detail. Automats — an idea straight out of the 1950s — can use locker-type systems to deliver food to diners without interacting with anyone.

Temperature scanning will most likely be implemented for both employees coming to work, as well as customers wanting to dine in. “Some restaurants are repurposing metal detectors to check the temperature of guests,” Winn says. “At Brooklyn Chophouse, customers walk through the scanner to see if their temperature is above 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is, the customer will be motioned by an employee to another scanner that measures temperatures at the wrist,” and they will be turned away if their scan comes back with a high temperature. Winn adds, “Temperature scanning is becoming a norm for not only restaurants, but other industries like retail as well.”

Watch other episodes to see how tech is helping keep us safe at:

Outside the restaurant industry, changes are also being made. Supermarket giant Kroger recently announced that it would be using a technology called Quevision to limit in-store traffic. “Quevision uses infrared sensors and predictive analytics to monitor the flow of customers,” Winn says. Eyewear companies like Warby Parker have implemented virtual fittings though their app, where you can see what different pairs of glasses look like. Swipe left or swipe right for different types of frames, and you can look at the camera from different angles to make sure you like the look and fit. Additionally, more and more companies will also look into contactless payment systems, such as Apple Pay, as physical cash might not be accepted for the time being.

“Things are going to look a little different until we’re back to life as we once knew it, and technology can help us feel a little bit better about going out,” Winn says.

Todd Werkhoven
Todd Werkhoven's work can be read at numerous publications and he co-authored a personal finance book called "Zombie…
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