The State of the Hospitality Industry: Unchartered Territory

The State of the Hospitality Industry: Uncharted Territory


As hospitality brands navigate the pandemic-induced economic crisis, we take  a look at rapidly evolving best practices for point of sale, health & safety, and restaurant pickup & delivery. Plus: A new action plan for IT professionals.

Restaurant Action Plan


Fighting for the survival of their businesses, restaurants are innovating at breakneck speed − pivoting operations to off-premises, rolling out curbside, and selling groceries and meal kits. 

Demand for Drive-Thru

Drive-thru has emerged as the most popular way to get food from restaurants, with 67.4% of consumers across all age groups saying it’s their preferred service channel, according to Service Management Group (SMG) research.  

Savvy restaurants that don’t have drive-thrus are creating make-shift ones. Famous Dave’s  has added a “gritty drive-thru,” a makeshift drive-thru staked out with parking cones. Before COVID-19, Famous Dave’s was already offering third-party delivery and curbside pickup through its online ordering platform with Olo. And for those who want to pay at pickup, some locations are using handheld wireless-enabled device that enables customers to tap to pay. 

Curbside Pickup

Chicken Salad Chick has used some creativity to roll out new concepts including popup locations, curbside pickup and local delivery. Chicken Salad Chick was able to mobilize an off-premises model quickly, thanks to its integrated digital ordering and delivery platform with Olo.

Thanks to some swift IT and operational changes facilitated by Microsoft Teams, Cousins Subs added curbside pickup to all 100 of its stores.

Consumers too are keeping their social distance and are embracing online ordering and delivery. With consumers concerned about health, a contactless customer experience is on track to become the new normal. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Domino’s, Pizza Nova, Pizza Hut, Yum! Brands are among the brands offering contactless delivery.  

The Rise of Grocerants

To help their guests in their communities get the staples they need, restaurants across the country are adding groceries to their online menus, including Dickey’s Barbecue, Panera Bread, Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe and select Subway restaurants, to name a few. Just Salad launched Just Grocery, a new delivery service with food and pantry staples, along with meal kits for some of its popular menu items.

As the hospitality industry approaches the close of Q2 2020, the only thing we’re absolutely certain of is that we can’t be certain of anything. 

We’ve seen hotel vacancy rates at 80%. Restaurants shuttered. Unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression. And a pandemic that continues to take lives and disrupt communities across the U.S.

But there have been signs of hope.

Starting in early spring, forward-thinking hotels, restaurants and technology companies began to take steps toward a new equilibrium, a path forward that leverages existing tools and know-how and fast-tracks the most relevant, emerging technology.

Here HT provides a snapshot of what the new normal may look like.

Contactless Payments: The Time Has Come

According to an IDC survey of 1,500+ U.S. consumers, 10% of respondents acknowledge transitioning to contactless payments during the coronavirus outbreak motivated by “concerns over contamination from handing a card to another person or a dirty device,” says Dorothy Creamer, Senior Research Analyst, Hospitality & Travel Digital Transformation Strategies, IDC. This percentage increases to 18% for younger consumers (18-24).

“Restaurant operators and consumers now have an entirely new level of concern about touching unsanitary pin pads, which can be extremely unhealthy in light of the recent contagion,” says Alex Barrotti, TouchBistro CEO and founder. “This drives up the necessity for businesses to install contactless payment terminals to keep their customers feeling safe and coming back.”

Contactless payment technology is nothing new, in fact other countries have even had it in place for decades. But because American consumers have been content with swiping and dipping, hotels and restaurants have not felt a sense of urgency in updating their terminal hardware. However, in a post-pandemic world, where social distancing and fear of contaminated surfaces could become the norm, hotels and restaurants really need to consider implementing contactless payment tech.

Contactless doesn’t have to be just about convenient payment options. It can also improve loyalty. For example, Paytronix offers Loyalty ID technology that integrates with NFC mobile wallets. When guests tap their phones to pay they’re also able to see and redeem rewards on their phone. And when non-members tap to pay, they’re prompted to sign up for the loyalty program. 

For those who want to offer contactless payment options, but don’t want to upgrade their hardware just yet – there is another solution: QR codes. announced a solution which moves bill presentation and payment entirely onto a customer’s mobile phone. After ordering at a restaurant, guests use their phone to scan a QR code that is generated on an iPad and is unique to their order. Their bill appears along with the option to tip their server. The guest then pays via the mobile payment method they have installed on their phone. If taking orders over the phone, merchants enter the customer’s mobile number and a secure pay link is automatically sent to the customer via SMS. OneDine, Ready to Pay, Eigen xDine, Up n’Go, BbotRooam and PARk It by Par Technology also are offering QR code-based ordering and payment options. 

For hotels that don’t want to implement QR codes, Eazy O offers a new technology called Pearl. Using a mobile app on their phone, Pearl allows guests to order from any hotel restaurant to anywhere on property with no change in workflow to the hotel restaurant because it syncs with on property POS systems. Orders can be picked up by guests or delivered on a no-contact basis. It also allows charges to either the guest room folio or a credit card as well as dynamic visual menus with embedded pictures and multi-language support. 

And for the most forward-thinking of brands, “face pay” could be the future of contactless payment.

“In some areas of Asia, facial recognition payments tied to guest wallets are making inroads to take contactless payments and speedy check-out one step further,” says Rohith Kori, Senior Director of Corporate & Product Strategy at Agilysys. “While privacy concerns still need to be addressed for North America and Europe, it would serve our markets well to stay ahead of the technological trends that are being piloted in Asia for potential crossover to other markets around the world.”

This technology is not limited to Asia. In late March, Caliburger restaurants said it would no longer accept credit or cash payments during the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, guests who want to pay on site can register for PopPay, a face pay service, at New payment terminals are being installed so that guests can use PopPay without any contact with a touch panel. Guests can also order and pay using PopPay on the CaliBurger website.

IT Action Plan

IT Action Plan

In a post-COVID-19 world, companies will need to be prepared to turn their physical workforce into a remote one at a moment’s notice. IT departments must begin now to think differently about the type of hardware and software they purchase, the training they provide to employees, and the defenses they set up to protect company data. Here are a few key steps to take now:

Invest in Equipment

Purchase mobile workstations (laptops, smartphones and tablets) and then commit to ensuring that they are properly monitored and secured, says A.N. Ananth, chief strategy officer at Netsurion so that employees won’t need to use unsecured, personal devices to conduct business. This means they must come within the scope of Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) deployment and/or be protected with endpoint threat detection and response (EDR) sensors that are able to sync up to a SIEM monitored by a Security Operations Center (SOC).

Create a WFH Policy

Standardize remote work policies as part of future employee onboarding, says Heather Paunet, vice president of product management at Untangle. Even employees who are signing up to regularly work within an office will still need to be given training on software, connectivity, credentials and VPN security in anticipation that ongoing training will be easier to maintain than an immediate crash course during a crisis.

Require Cybersecurity Training

Insist that employees are regularly trained on cybersecurity, says Rocco Grillo, managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s Disputes and Investigations Global Cyber Risk Services practice. Companies should: conduct phishing and social engineering exercises to test the effectiveness of their training programs. Get in the habit of issuing ongoing notifications to employees of known attacks taking place in the industry; and implementing protocols for employees to escalate should they become the victim of phishing or social engineering attempt or attack. 

Make Data Access Difficult

Keep data safe in the future by enabling secure VPN logins and two-factor authentication for remote staff. Forcing every device to connect via a designated VPN to access any company resource will help reduce man-in-the-middle attacks, says Harrison Van Riper, threat research, team lead at Digital Shadows, while multi-factor authentication will help mitigate the impact of lost or stolen credentials. Some companies might find that VPNs are not the best choice for every employee. As an alternative consider Citrix or another remote desktop service solution, says Mark McCreary, CIPP/US, partner and co-chair of the Privacy and Data Security Practice at Fox Rothschild

Shore Up Internal Defenses

Implement a strong monitoring capability that will provide alerts of an intrusion, says Michael Bruemmer, vice president of data breach resolution and consumer protection at Experian. Create more hurdles for criminals to overcome once they “get inside.” Sophisticated IT departments may even try out “deception grids” which are tools that set up fake systems, Bruemmer says. If a criminal is able to make it past the perimeter defenses, it offers them multiple systems to have to navigate without the criminal being able to tell which are real and which are fake. And if a company is alerted to an intrusion in the fake system, they’ll gain a better understanding of how to manage the incident and how to safeguard real data from being exposed or stolen.

What Does “Clean” Mean Now?

With no disrespect intended toward housekeeping and wait staff across the country, the days of wiping down countertops and tables with a damp towel or sponge are over. 

In response to the novel coronavirus — and also acknowledging that the rate and severity of other viruses, such as SARS, Zika, influenza and Ebola, have increased in recent decades, hotels and restaurants have rapidly redefined what it means to be “clean.”

An array of solutions, from tech-supported protocols and checklists to ultraviolet disinfecting to good old-fashioned Lysol, are being adopted to ensure that high-touch surfaces remain virus-free.

The antivirus sanitation solution with the greatest success rate is ultraviolet light — the same type of rays that give sunlight its disinfecting power (and its ability to cause sunburn and skin cancer). UV-C light is employed by some hospitals to disinfect high-touch surfaces and medical equipment, often administered by robotic devices. Proximity Systems has developed a system called UV-CLEAN, which automatically disinfects surfaces — such as kiosks, POS, payment devices and other places where viruses and bacteria may be passed along — when people are not using them. Independent testing suggests that UV-CLEAN is 99.9% effective in eliminating dangerous pathogens. The promise of ultraviolet technology must be weighed against the considerable cost of its implementation, and hospitality professionals will look to establish best practices. 

Restaurants and hotels are also moving toward a standardization of cleanliness, developing sanitation checklists and protocols, often available to staff via app or online. A collaboration among Hilton Hotels, Mayo Clinic’s Infection Protection and Control team, and RB, the maker of Lysol, has the potential to influence practices across the industry due to its scale (including 6,100 properties). A Hilton CleanStay Room Seal is placed on a guest’s door to indicate that they are the first to enter their room after a cleaning that addresses all high-touch surfaces (including remotes and thermostats) using hospital-grade products. Hilton is also expanding its contactless check-in program, allowing guests to check-in, enter their rooms and check-out using mobile devices. Marriott, Hyatt and Accor have announced similar cleanliness initiatives with other major hotel brands expected to follow suit.

Preventing the Next Outbreak

One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s biggest sources of anxiety for the hospitality industry — both personal and economic — has been uncertainty about the health status of employees, partners, and guests. We’re seeing innovative technology and protocols that help address this concern by gauging key health indicators in an effort to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus and to detect and mitigate future pathogens that may arise. 

As hotels and restaurants seek solutions for keeping staff and guests healthy, some consensus is forming around the need to screen people for potential illness indicators, such as body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. Restaurants have scrambled not only to pivot to pick-up and delivery but have also moved quickly to establish employee health-check platforms that allow employers to track staff’s vital signs before they begin their shifts and collect that data on mobile health apps.

Elenium Automation, for example, has developed contactless technology, debuting at Etihad Airlines’s hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport, that can detect at-risk airline travelers. When integrated into voice-activated self-service check-in and bag-drop, the technology automatically scans a passenger’s temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. If the passenger is determined to be at-risk, the check-in process automatically stops. Widespread adoption of such a platform in hotels and restaurants could potentially deliver a measure of security, but adoption in many regions, such as North America and Europe, will require evaluations of privacy and civil liberties concerns.

In addition to tracking individuals’ health, “asset-tracking” technology can literally track people and items such as baggage via integrated systems of sensors, tags, interactive maps and APIs such as those offered by the data intelligence company Inpixon. Sophisticated asset-tracking can work in tandem with temperature scanners to trace the whereabouts of people who are at risk and, just as importantly, the locations in which they may have had close contact with others. HT

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