If you thought traveling in the era of Covid-19 was hard, try eating while traveling. First of all, which restaurants are open? Businesses are asking travel agents for help checking ahead to see if hotel restaurants are operating. And how can a business traveler feel safe in a seemingly foreign environment (airport, hotel, restaurant) while naked (unmasked)? 

For Dinova and Grab, it comes down to managing expectations and reducing touchpoints. 

Several corporate clients joined Dinova, the dining rewards system provider, to create guidelines and best practices for safe dining, released Monday.

“It’s about the new social contract between diners and restaurant employees,” said Dinova CEO Alison Galik during a phone interview this month. “How they engage, what they can expect. Is there new tech like QR codes? Restaurants we have talked to are reducing capacity. Some talked about taking the temperatures of people coming in. One thing that is disappearing is the self-serve stations. The real message is, be patient and kind as you walk into these restaurants. It will be different.”

Grab, the food ordering app company part-owned by Collinson, enables touchless ordering from the latter’s Priority Pass airport lounges. Last week, Collinson announced new operating procedures for the lounges, including a pilot program in which users can order and pay for food and beverage using Grab and either have it delivered or get notified when to pick it up.

Mark Bergsrud, Grab’s CEO and a former airline executive, said interest in the company had never been higher. Not only does it offer touchless ordering and payment, but also it helps restaurants reduce labor costs from order taking. 

It’s a lot of work to restart staffing and training at restaurants that had closed, said Bergsrud. On May 8, the National Restaurant Association said the industry had lost half of its 12 million jobs. Galik noted that the work restaurants are doing to improve sanitation and food safety requires significant investments. 

The Grab app supports different service models. Ordering in advance for pickup allows the user to save time and avoid standing in line or handling a credit card. It’s especially useful for flight connections, but travelers also use it on arrival or departure. Grab integrates with the American Airlines app.

QR code

After an initial launch in Europe, Grab brought to the United States a web-based at-table order and payment experience in which the user scans a quick response (QR) code or connects to a Near Field Communications tag. When users finish eating, there’s no waiting for the bill.

Take-out restaurants can display similar codes in “virtual” kiosks, and Grab also supports kiosks that can display options from multiple restaurants.

“Some products probably need to be integrated into others,” said Bergsrud. “There will be some consolidation at some point, and we have work ahead of us to make it as useful as possible. Voice, for example, has to be part of the roadmap.”

The mobile device was already a force in the business dining experience before the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of 509 U.S. business travelers surveyed in 2018 by GBTA and Dinova had dining-related apps on their mobile phones. More than half used them to search for restaurants, and nearly as many reported using them to make reservations.

“Keep an eye out for QR codes,” Dinova wrote in its new guidelines. “Some restaurants are using them to enable quick access to their menus.” Many smartphones have native QR reading functionality, but some require a discrete app.

Dinova will update its mobile app with a “user experience designed around restaurants’ Covid safety practices.” It also will include information from government authorities.

The guidelines released this week include information about diner screening and temperature taking (“Restaurants can require guests to have their temperatures taken, as long as they don’t do so discriminately”); health declaration forms; contact tracing (“collecting information so that restaurant staff can notify you if there’s a chance you’ve been exposed”); social distancing (“reduced/restricted screening, partitions/seating arrangements, call ahead seating/requiring reservations, signage, fresh air dining”); cleanliness; and when to use pickup versus delivery.

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