At Harper’s Table in Annandale and Denim BYOB in Haddonfield, customers hold up their phones to a QR code at their table and up pops a menu. It’s a modern approach, both through a pandemic recovery lens and an environmentally conscious lens, eliminating the high-contact surface of shared menus, and avoiding the reliance on single use paper menus eventually bound for the trashcan. The eateries are among the restaurants in the state leaning on technology to comply with COVID-19 preventive restrictions as they’re allowed to open up.
“We’re in the process of moving to a completely touchless system. It’s safest to make sure everyone, your customers and staff, feels safe, and making sure your customers come back is important,” said Adam Rutkowski, the owner of Harper’s Table.
Man Skirt Brewing in Hackettstown is taking contactless ordering a step further by allowing folks at their outdoor tables to order things like flights and pints from the website directly to their table. Each table, which in total accommodate about 50 seats, has a table number and a QR code that folks can scan and place their order online, without having to call a server over.
Like most breweries, Fisher originally created his online ordering system for delivery and pick up orders mid-pandemic. But being forced to do that has turned into a positive thing, he said, because he thinks table service is “a level of service people could get used to.”
“The way it works when I do online ordering, it’s mirrored in the [point of sale] system inside the brewery. I have the same data in the brewery that I have online. Why not give the customer the option to order that way if they don’t want the interaction?” Fisher said.
But, at least for ordering, the technology is just an option. Table service is required with current COVID restrictions – no one is walking up to the bar, and you’re only served if you’re seated – so patrons still have the option of placing an order with a server directly.
“I think that’s important now more than ever to be able to have that human interaction if that’s something you want. Everyone has their own comfort level,” Fisher said.
With 6 feet required between tables outdoors and 25 percent capacity limits when indoor dining resumes on July 2, establishments that previously had a first-come, first-served policy are tapping into online reservation and waitlist systems. Lori White of Zed’s Beer in Marlton said Zed’s is using a digital wait list widget to help control customer flow to the 13 tables on the front porch outdoor seating area.
To maintain 6 feet of distance between tables, Zed’s operators have to know exactly how many people are in each party. Some tables are set up to accommodate parties of two, while one can accommodate up to eight. The digital wait list widget allows people to sign up to visit from an hour before opening to an hour before closing, but it doesn’t limit them to a time slot in the same way a real reservation would.
“It’s better than trying to do a reservation system [for us] because I don’t have any good sense for how often the tables will turn. I don’t know how long my patrons are going to be there,” White said. “[But] when you put yourself on the waitlist, you can see exactly where you are on the waitlist and I can text you when [a table’s open]. Hopefully it helps the guests plan everything a little better.”
When it’s time to pay the tab, some eateries are eschewing cash in favor of digital payment systems like Venmo and PayPal that align with the contactless trend. At Gronsky’s Milk House in High Bridge, a traditionally cash-only establishment, customers can pay for their breakfast, lunch, or ice cream with Venmo, and General Manager Dawn Woods said up to 40 percent of customers have switched to the method since they began offering it at the onset of the pandemic.
“A lot of our customers are older people who’ve been coming to our store since it opened [in 1978, but] more and more, since I set up our Facebook page and website, we’ve gained a new clientele base that predominantly comes on the weekends. They’re younger people who don’t come in during the week because they’re not retired. But the ice cream crowd is coming back now that it’s been warmer, and I think [Venmo use] is going to increase,” Woods said. “I can see it going to 50 percent in the next month. Some people are fine with touching cash, but more and more people are like ‘this seems like a good idea.’”
Nationally used POS system Toast developed a pay-at-the-table arrangement that allows customers, rather than signing with their finger on a POS device wielded by servers, to scan a QR code printed on a receipt that’s directly connected to their bill and pay with their credit card information digitally. Man Skirt uses that for customers wary of touching common screens.
“Toast is a pretty big restaurant POS system, and they’re just starting to get into breweries more. None of the breweries I’ve seen are implementing this kind of thing, though,” said Fisher. “I’m pretty excited to be doing this kind of stuff. I come from a computer programming background. I was in the field for like 17 years before I opened the brewery.”
At Scout’s Coffee Bar + Mercantile in High Bridge, owner Nicole Poko also started accepting Venmo at the onset of the pandemic and created an e-commerce site. Coincidentally, Scout’s also started using the Cloosiv app, an ordering platform that connects coffee drinkers to local coffee shops, in February, unrelated to COVID-19.
“[Using Cloosiv] was 100 percent contactless, it was safe for us and our baristas. In the beginning, there was not a lot of knowledge about the virus, we were just doing everything we could to make sure everyone felt safe,” Poko said.
It worked out in her favor. Though business wasn’t exactly booming, she retained about 50 percent of her business year over year. Even now that customers are allowed to walk into her shop, 50 percent of her orders come through Cloosiv and 25 percent come through her e-commerce website.
The website also supports the small shop within Scout’s, which sells curated gift items like earrings and coffee mugs, and recently introduced products like Scout’s At Home, which are bakery items sold in packs for customers to bake at home.
For Scout’s, Poko said the implementation of technology has been critical, calling it “the lifeline of our business.”
“Had we not gotten on Cloosiv and our e-commerce site, we would have really struggled,” Poko said. “I’m really grateful that we figured it out.”