Industry insights Read time : 4 minutes

COVID-19 opens door for software innovation


After months in the dark, restaurant dining rooms are beginning to reopen. Government-mandated shutdowns due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic explicitly included restaurant dining rooms. The highly contagious virus took advantage of spreading through people closer than the 6-foot guideline for a sustained period. Many businesses were limited only to takeout, walk-up, or delivery service to continue to bring in revenue.

Software developers stepped up to help their users adapt their businesses with online ordering, mobile solutions, and omnichannel payments so they could continue to operate and continue to meet the continued demand from consumers — but to do it safely. Now that the economy is reopening, restaurants need help from developers again. As the economy reopens, officials are still reluctant to give restaurants the full go-ahead, trying to ensure that people maintain social distancing and minimize the spread of the virus. Restaurants in Florida, for example, initially permitted restaurants to open their dining rooms at 25 percent seating capacity and, with no major uptick in cases, increased to 50 percent in June.

Although adding dining room service back to a restaurant’s operations seems like a step in the right direction, operating at anything less than 100 percent, especially after weeks or months with limited options to do business, won’t mean much of a recovery. Businesses in the restaurant industry operate on small margins. They don’t move from red to black unless they see the right volume of traffic, filling and turning as many tables as possible during each daypart.

Wide Open Spaces

To expand their dining areas closer to normal operating capacity, your restaurant clients are looking for help to expand their ability to offer outdoor dining, and in some places, such as Massachusetts, restaurants are reimaging operations to comply with mandates that permit only outdoor dining.

For restaurants with outdoor dining space that’s only limited to a small deck or patio, or even a sidewalk, there’s still the problem of finding enough rooms for socially distanced tables that can help them turn a profit.

To help support restaurants in their communities, some local governments, such as the city of Little Rock, AR, are expediting permits to turn parking lots into dining spaces or “outdoor dining rooms” defined by tents or umbrella tables.

Outdoor Dining Challenges to Overcome

Your restaurant clients that have never before offered outdoor dining may need restaurant point of sale (POS), management, and payment solutions that differ from those they use inside. Outdoor dining spaces could mean more steps for servers, which could delay table turns and limit customer satisfaction. Extra space between tables and the kitchen can also create barriers to accurately communicating orders in a timely manner. Payment, especially when the focus is on keeping hands and surfaces clean to prevent the spread of coronavirus, will also be an issue. Your clients may need your help to deploy new solutions, including contactless or mobile payments, that minimize person-to-person interactions.

Software developers may also find that the communities in which restaurants are located also need new tech solutions to overcome some of the challenges outdoor dining spaces create for them. When a community allows expanding dining into parking lots or public spaces, authorities must continue to ensure parking still be available for people who drive to the restaurant. So, if a business repurposes a parking lot, the municipality may have to expand street parking or even close some streets. This may affect revenues from metered or paid parking, and local governments may be looking for payment solutions that help them charge for and collect parking fees more easily than a gated lot or coin-operated meters.

Communities may also see an increase in public transportation to these areas, necessitating a focus on socially distanced operations on buses and trains, including contactless payment solutions that minimize person-to-person engagement and enable distance between staff and passengers.

If it’s essential to close streets for the safety of diners, businesses and communities may also be looking for solutions that help them safely reroute drivers or delivery personnel and to minimize the impact on neighboring businesses or commute times of essential workers including healthcare personnel.

Take on the role as a trusted business advisor to help your community make the transition from the shutdown back to business as usual. Planning, establishing the right processes and supporting them with the right technology can keep local businesses thriving.

NMI Team