As the U.S. opens up, many changes are going into place for restaurants and one of them is a move to touchless, both in the digital and the analog realms.

“Touchless tech and the resurgence of BYOD (bring your own device) will be essential as hourly workers return to the workplace,” says Chad Halvorson, founder, When I Work, Minneapolis, Minn.

Any elements that are typically shared or touched by different patrons are moving to touchless technology.

1. Embrace digital menus and smartphone apps.

Ed ViserEd Viser, Café Design & ArchitectureMany restaurants are doing away with printed menus and are now having their guests use smartphones to review the menu, says Isaac-Daniel Astrachan, principal of SBJGroup in New York City. However, he thinks fine-dining restaurants won’t want guests looking at their phones. Ultimately, the menu, however delivered, “needs to reflect what the restaurant is all about,” says Astrachan.  

Ed Viser, principal at Café Design & Architecture in Phoenix, Ariz., says, “smart, conscious operators are going to switch” away from traditional menus. At higher-end restaurants, “servers will tell you what’s on the menu, or they’ll bring you a screen,” he says, since screens are easier to sanitize than menus.

Andrew JensenAndrew Jensen, Design & Layout ServicesFor QSRs and fast-casual restaurants, Andrew Jensen, president of Design & Layout Services, Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a fan of having employees in front of the counter, taking all orders via a mobile tablet. That person could also help monitor social distancing guidelines while minimizing the time customers stand in line.

“During busy times, employees could step out from behind the counter with a mobile ordering device. They can help customers waiting in line and direct them to an open table or send a text when the order is ready.” It’s even a good idea, he says, to offer discounts to encourage placing online orders with electronic payment, which dramatically reduces person-to-person interaction.”

2. Add contactless payment options.

Once implemented, touchless payment is fairly simple, but wading through the various options can feel like a minefield. Operators need to figure out which method works best for their operation, whether customers pay via their phones or myriad other options. It’s also important to consider technology for the long term, says Mary King, restaurant business analyst at Fit Small Business, and assess the platform they choose to ensure the company is robust enough to stay in business and not leave them in the lurch later.

3. Automate doors.

Doors are a major touch point in all restaurants so making them automatic prevents a lot of touching, says Viser. Quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants should install automatic doors, and preferably have one to enter and one to exit, to keep customers apart, he advises.

4. Bring technology to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, having everything fully automated — faucets, soap, towels or air dryer, and flush, is essential, Viser says.

Automatic doors in restrooms are not usually feasible but Jensen suggests including hands-free foot door openers to help guests avoid touching doors. Viser suggests sanitation stations next to doors both inside and outside of restrooms. 

5. Convert to a ghost kitchen until you can safely reopen.

Ghost kitchens are perhaps the best short-term solution to reducing touch in restaurants, says Viser. And he thinks this was the way the industry was heading anyway.

“There’s a bright side to this,” he says. “The future of high-end restaurants is in-home dining and catering. Ghost kitchens or facilities that are housing multiple commercial kitchens for different restaurants would be the way to go. I see this as something that would help the industry overall.”

This will also lead to cost savings, Viser points out. There will be no need to build expensive dining rooms. “Forget the frustrations and delays, the permitting. Simply get your menu and online storefront ready, rent a kitchen, stock up, and start feeding the masses. That could be the best cost savings yet.”