By Dil Hussain, CEO and Co-Founder, Dines (www.dines.co.uk)

“The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and has had to change the way it operates drastically over the last few months in order to survive.While across most of the country now restaurants, bars, cafes, pubs, hotels and everyone else in the hospitality can open or is planning to open to some degree again, for the foreseeable future alfresco dining will be a popular way forward for venues that have the space to use.

“So, what can the industry do to create a safe environment whilst not compromising on cus- tomer experience?

SWITCH TO DIGITAL:

“Technology is a venue’s best friend when it comes to social distancing. For example, venues should be thinking about stopping the use of hard-to-clean but traditionally re-usable items, such as menus.This could mean a switch to paper disposable menus or the use of a mobile platform for a digital menu.The benefits of using a digital menu are many – it’s is less wasteful and ‘greener’, there is no chance of cross-contamination or it being accidentally re-used, and it can be easily and instantly amended as dishes change.What’s more, a recent survey found that 56% of customers said being able to view menus on smart phones would give them confidence in eating out again*, so it is already a popular choice with customers.

“Once a menu is digital, it can be taken one step further with contactless ordering and payments. Table service only is a legal requirement of the hospitality industry being open, but moving to an online system which can take an order, send it to the kitchen and take the payment seamlessly cuts means staff only need one visit the table rather than three.This way, there are no shared terminals, no touching buttons on chip and pin machines, and no having to hand over the bill – all that needs to be done is deliver the drinks and food from the bar or kitchen to the table.

MAKE THE SMALL CHANGES:

“Don’t forget though, it’s not all about the technology.There are lots of small changes a venue can implement to help create a safe alfresco dining experience. For example, in traditionally infor- mal and shared dining spaces such as the Time Out Market in Lisbon, the ‘sharing tables’ have Perspex partitions to keep guests safe and separate. Other venues are simply not putting cutlery, condiments, or other tableware out in advance but waiting until food is served. Some are taking it to the extreme with ‘bubbles’ previously only seen during the winter months and Christmas. And, for those with lots of open space, it’s as simple as spacing tables more two meters plus apart.

IT WILL GET EASIER:

“While sometimes change can be scary and inconvenient, the public are behind the reopening of the hospitality industry and so are many companies that have been working hard to create solutions to enable safe re-opening.We may never go back completely to how we were, but we definitely will be moving forward.”

* Survey undertaken by Black and White Hospitality, June 2020