As the quick-service and fast-casual dining community carefully emerge from the its COVID-19 quarantine, most, regardless of their size, have created some form of a business reopening “playbook.” These playbooks include a wide range of strategies founded largely upon social distancing, limited occupancy, and extensive cleaning & sanitizing procedures.

The main objective of all these strategies and their tactical implementations is to convey trust, credibility, and transparency to restaurant customers. We’ve already seen numerous commercial broadcast advertising showing masked employees, wiping service counters, tables, self-serve ordering kiosks, POS, and credit card terminals. As New York, Minnesota, and a host of other states reopen their restaurants with outdoor dining with capacity restrictions, how do restaurateurs ensure their dining rooms are safe? And then communicate that with their patrons?

McDonald’s sent their dine in re-opening playbook to their franchise community in mid-May.

Their playbook defines a spectrum of requirements including “contactless operations,” floor decals and signage for communicating social distancing and directional traffic patterns, and numerous mandatory hygiene, cleaning & sanitizing procedures and cycles. They are requiring that bathrooms, the front service counters and all “high-touch” hard surfaces (all those Plexiglas “sneeze guards”) be cleaned and sanitized “at a minimum of every 30-minutes;” self-order kiosks and dine-in tables “after every use.” Employees are required to wear masks and wash their hands every 30 minutes.

Technology providers of all types are pivoting and presenting a myriad of COVID-19 inspired offerings to facilitate restaurant re-openings including hand-sanitizer dispenser, thermal imaging and computer vision cameras for taking the customer’s temperature (and their photo), footfall traffic sensors for occupancy measurement and analytics data all bolted onto a digital display. There are already more than 25 different versions of temperature check kiosks now being offered. A New Zealand company has recently released a thermal sensing skin-patch with Bluetooth to monitor body temperature. These solutions have gone from responsive innovation to commodities within a matter of weeks.

These reopening playbooks and opportunistic devices make many promises, but it begs the question- “so what?” What do you do now that your device alerts you that a shopper has a temperature of 101 degrees? I can only imagine the legal ramifications (HIPAA) of emailing a person’s identity and their temperature through unsecured systems. How do you, or your shoppers, know that the cleaning and sanitizing requirements are actually being done? Many of these efforts make for good ‘optics’ but lack meaningful substance. This was substantiated during a recent conversation with a retail manager in which she commented on all the visual references to cleaning and sanitizing in her company’s television advertising but “… all I see in the store is a person without a mask mopping the floor.”

As well intentioned as all of these efforts might be, the one element that is sorely missing is that of accountability. Accountability and verification lead to trust and credibility—essential to both shoppers and employees. The ability to certify, audit, and trace these incidents and prove that mandatory procedures were done and comply with required guidelines and policies would help expedite the return to a “new normal.” McDonald’s has been bullish in subsidizing store remodels, technology upgrades as well as taking a lead in defining foundational requirements to reopen their dine-in experience. Perhaps the broader restaurant community should empower their future marketing with: “Clean ingredients, clean stores. Health and safety for our customers and our people. Value you can trust.”

In a competitive landscape where customer loyalty is eroding, and now made significantly more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a tremendous opportunity for restaurants and the broader retail community, to adopt a quality assurance and security certification on which patrons can rely.

There is a timely opportunity to introduce a universal rating and certification of compliance and governance over these new customer expectations. In 1936, the now famous Michelin Restaurant Guide, awarding a 3-star rating for restaurant quality and dining excellence, was first published. The guide was established to promote car travel by a French automobile tire manufacturer! A three-star Michelin rating has become the most trusted, recognized, and revered recognition by restaurants the world over. Perhaps the time has come for a standardized rating for health, safety, and security for the restaurant industry that goes beyond the health inspector’s grade?

The benefits of a standardized quality assurance rating that combines task and training data logging, reporting, dispatching, and responding application includes:

  • Accountability for brand/corporate requirements for COVID-19 response and beyond.
  • Visibility and reporting across all tiers and disciplines of corporate management.
  • Compliance and traceability of required workflows and processes.
  • Audits and affidavits for legal protection (Remember the 1992 hot coffee lawsuit brought against McDonald’s where a jury awarded the plaintiff nearly $3 million? What could we see with regard to COVID-19 litigation?)
  • A measured certification and affirmation for customers and employees alike.

The quote in McDonald’s reopening playbook: “we only get one chance to do this the right way,” not only amplifies the importance of these requirements for their brand, their employees and customers, but also their financial significance and impact. Hanging a clipboard with a “lasted cleaned” form by the restroom is simply not “… the right way.”

Over the past 22 years Adrian Weidmann has invented three different software tools to model and optimize the efficacy of digital signage content. Adrian recently developed blink325, a predictive. analytics tool combining viewing science, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to optimize digital menuboard content design before it’s published. He is currently working on a software platform that will allow restaurants to manage and audit their reopening ‘playbooks’. Clients include UPS, Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, and Dairy Queen.

Outside Insights, Story