Kajol Taneja

The author is Intern with BW Businessworld

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Contactless Technologies Will Become The New Norm In Post COVID World: Ankit Mehrotra, Founder, Dineout

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Ankit Mehrotra, Founder, Dineout, talks about changed landscape of the F&B indusrty and more

According to you, how has the landscape of the F&B industry changed?
The 4 months nation-wide shutdown has severely hit our country’s F&B industry and local restaurants causing nearly 35% of them to shut down even. Restaurants need to rethink their business strategy and find ways to serve their customers. In India, takeaways & drive-throughs were around 1% of the overall restaurant industry as compared to 15% to 20% in the US & Europe during pre-COVID times. However, given the current trends in India, it is expected to go up to 15% over the next 6 months. The F&B industry is learning from these new normal and some of the trends that we have noticed worldwide which are now taking concrete shape in India are:

Technology which used to be perceived as ‘luxury’ is now a ‘necessity’. We see an emergence of QR codes across and within the F&B industry for a contactless dining experience. QR codes will play an instrumental role in implementing a contactless menu and digital payments at the restaurant. In India, as soon as the Unlock phase began we experienced an overwhelming response to our technology solutions not just from restaurants but other businesses like malls, airports and more.

The adoption of premium hygiene standards across the world transcends businesses. Users look for hygiene tags and are expecting premium hygiene measures before they visit a restaurant for takeaway or for dining out. A lot of hygiene certifications have come into place which plays an important role in consumer decision making and building confidence.

While there was an increase in home-cooking during lockdown, we are now seeing a surge in demand for takeaways and drive-throughs over the last one month. Dineout has expanded its offering to users to meet the changing needs of the restaurant industry. On the Dineout app, we have enabled Takeaway options for our users featuring over 5000 leading restaurants across India. 80% of top delivery brands sign up for contactless takeaway services from Dineout, creating a new revenue channel for restaurants and an opportunity to grow profitably and sustain during this transition.

What new technology / innovations are being adapted to increase functioning post COVID-19?
To help the F&B industry adapt to the new normal, we’ve built and launched the country’s most comprehensive Contactless Dining suite for restaurants. It ensures seamless plug-and-play technology to support no-contact dining for the foreseeable future. We believe that in a post COVID world contactless technologies will become the new norm, and people will use their phones to do everything, right from pre-ordering to making payments.

While QR code technology will help restaurants in the implementation of digital menu and digital payment assuring social distancing within the restaurant. Pre-ordering will help diners to cut the wait times at the restaurants and ensure that the food is ready by the time they reach. Reservations and waitlist management software will ensure that restaurants aren’t reserving more than what the social distancing norms will dictate. This shift is necessary for restaurants to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and to get diners knocking on their doors again. We have also extended our contactless tech to malls and retail spaces to effectively manage their operations.

Also, enabling restaurants to be “Atmanirbhar” and promote ordering through their own white-label solutions. For example, through Instagram and WhatsApp integrations restaurants by adding a button on Instagram profile and stickers on stories allows them to get direct orders from diners. This removes the need for an aggregator and also gives the ownership of the diner data to the restaurants. A new revenue stream for restaurants to cope up with the new normal.

Now with restrictions coming to an end, how are you preparing to provide new and safe experiences to consumers while dining-in?

We’ve introduced the country’s most comprehensive Contactless Dining suite for restaurants. We’re helping restaurants across India to redesign their customer interaction by extending the use of contactless technology and adhering to the social distancing norms. Contactless technology will help restaurants to minimize customer touchpoints and build customer confidence for dine-in services.

While our contactless services will help users to order and relish delicacies through minimal human intervention, our partnership with Staqu will play an instrumental role in reviving customer confidence by assuring them of hygiene compliance not only in dining areas but the kitchens as well. A live stream of the kitchen proceedings will also be available to the end customer to assure them of the hygiene compliance and sanitization standards. This will help reinforce consumer confidence, thereby increasing footfalls to the restaurants.

We’ve also introduced ‘‘SafeToEatOut” tag for our certified partner restaurants with premium hygiene measures. Diners can see the certified restaurants on the Dineout App with their audit rating and make an informed decision.

Are consumers going hand in hand with adapting digitalization and the new normal?

We’ve seen a remarkable response from the country’s F&B industry for our contactless technology and onboarded more than 10,000 restaurants in the last 4 months. Consumers are also aligning with the new social distancing norms and adoption of technology for their dining out instances. We’ve seen a positive change in cities such as Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Ahmedabad where restaurants have opened up.

People have started to make reservations using our app on restaurants which are hygiene compliant. They are checking the hygiene ratings for the restaurants before they are visiting them. People are also looking for contactless dining at restaurants before making a reservation. Restaurants with contactless dining deployed seeing 4X traffic as compared to restaurants that do not have contactless technology. 70% of the GMV generated via Dineout Pay in the month of August has been generated through QR code scanning.

We also see a lot of diners opting for Takeaway. In days to come, this is likely to become an increasingly popular trend.

With no signs of Covid-19 subsiding anytime soon & people's reluctance to eat from outside, knowing that hygiene is more critical than it has ever been, What measures are being taken to subsidize the impact of the pandemic at your end?
Earning customer confidence is the prime importance for dining out business and we are making sure that all our partners on the Dineout App follow the safety and hygiene standards. We’re educating users through our #SafeToEatOut campaign to build diners’ confidence and create awareness about the safety measures taken by partner restaurants across dine-in, home delivery and takeaway services.

We are also facilitating the Food Hygiene Rating for restaurants in partnership with Equinox lab indicating the safety and hygiene measures undertaken by a restaurant. We’re also labeling restaurants taking all preventive measures with the “SafeToEatOut” tag on its app to ensure safe dining out experience for our users. Diners can see the certified restaurants on the Dineout App with their audit rating and make an informed decision.

We are promoting contactless Takeaway & Drive through for restaurants and malls in India. Users can select their favorite dishes from multiple restaurants or pre-order contactless takeaways from certified restaurants for self pick-up without any waiting time. This way they can relish their favorite dishes with complete peace of mind. Diners can also pick-up their food at specially created drive-thru windows or curbside at partner restaurants and malls for a safer contactless experience.

According to you what are the key lessons to be learned from battling this pandemic with regards to the F&B industry?
COVID-19 turned out to be the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the Restaurant Industry! The use of technology will become a must-have to maintain social distancing and to reduce multiple touchpoints at the restaurants. These can be simple actions like booking a table, pre-ordering meals, takeaway, digital ordering, digital payment, etc. The diner will be looking to step into a safe restaurant where he can grab a quick sumptuous meal without worrying about touching a physical menu, a card machine, etc.

Additionally, diners will rank safety assurance and premier hygiene as top factors when they choose a restaurant to dine out in a post-COVID world.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, many fine-dining restaurants and five-star properties who earlier shied away from delivery are revamping their menus for delivery with limited items. We believe ‘takeaway’ is going to emerge as a key revenue line along with home deliveries for most restaurants and food tech players would adjust to this new normal.

This is only the beginning of innovation and technology bringing a much overdue shift in the F&B industry. The quality of food, service and hygiene will be paramount and use of technology to ensure cleanliness and social distancing as a tool to save costs for the restaurants will be supreme.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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