The implications of the worldwide pandemic are still unfolding, but at Bank of America we believe this ultimately could prove one of those global events that permanently reshape our daily lives, in both large and small ways. During these challenging times, all of us have explored or adjusted to new ways of working, learning, communicating and buying things—including restaurant meals. Although initially adopted in reaction to the coronavirus, some of these changes are likely to become a permanent part of our lives.
The restaurant industry, like many others, is assessing strategies to recover from the initial impact of the worldwide crisis and resulting stay-at-home orders. One clear truth is that this is a moment for innovation, as the industry embraces new technologies that will not only help businesses recover, but also pave the path forward. The pandemic is accelerating many trends that were already in motion but might have taken longer to fully play out.
Some of those technological innovations will change how restaurant operators offer their menus, how consumers order, pay for and receive restaurant meals, and how companies handle incoming and outgoing payments. Things like online order and delivery, mobile apps, curbside pickup, “virtual” restaurants and menus were already being implemented as convenient solutions for customers, but will now also be considered because of the additional safety benefits they offer.
Contactless solutions for customers
Consumers increasingly have been choosing takeout, drive-thru and delivery meals to suit their on-the-go lifestyles. In 2019, pre-pandemic, National Restaurant Association/Technomic research found that nearly 60% of restaurant occasions were off-premises. According to the study, 39% of consumers said they were using drive-thru more often than a year ago, 34% said they were using delivery more often, and 29% said they were using takeout more often. As a result, 78% of restaurant operators said off-premises programs were a strategic priority.
And then the pandemic hit. In 2020, a world of social distancing and online transactions, “the word is contactless,” says Charles Murphy, Director, Global Transaction Solutions for Bank of America. The new imperative for contactless ordering, payment and pickup/delivery dovetails with existing interest in off-premises dining. As a result, restaurant operators are reexamining both in-store and digital payment options.
In-store payment systems in the U.S. already were moving toward contactless options. More than 100 million tap-and-go credit cards had been issued by the end of 2019, and the vast majority of face-to-face transactions in the U.S.—some 71%—occur at retail locations that are contactless-enabled, Visa reported in March 2020. The Near Field Communications technology that enables tap-and-go cards also enables smartphone payments via Apple Pay and Google Pay. These payment systems save time for both employees and customers at point of sale.
The coronavirus pandemic accelerated consumer interest in contactless payment options. In research from mid-April 2020, Mastercard found that consumers around the world were moving to contactless payments; 79% of consumers worldwide said they were using contactless payment options. Some 82% of consumers said they viewed contactless as “the cleaner way to pay,” and 74% said they plan to continue using contactless payment post-pandemic.
Restaurant operators should use the opportunity to promote their NFC/contactless systems—or add appropriate hardware as needed to accommodate tap-and-go cards and phones.
In addition to fast, convenient in-person payment systems, the pandemic has put a new focus on online order and payment options, as many restaurant transactions shifted online, delivery grew, and curbside pickup was implemented across the country. Some operators offer order and payment on a website, or direct customers to third-party apps.
Quick-service restaurants, including the nation’s leading pizza and coffee chains, pioneered app-based ordering, delivery and pickup options. Chains like Domino’s offer voice interface and even ordering through social media platforms.
But the 2019 NRA/Technomic research found the industry as a whole was not keeping up with consumer interest. The study found that only 18% of restaurant operators were offering mobile ordering via proprietary apps. Now is the time to reevaluate websites and apps. “Anyone who hasn’t shifted to this method and invested in mobile ordering and delivery has to do it sooner rather than later,” says Cristin O’Hara, Head of the Restaurant Group at Bank of America.
“In addition to being the smart answer, contactless, digital payments are growing very quickly at this point because of the world we’re living in,” says O’Hara. “Restaurants that already have figured out this piece have been at an advantage in 2020, as opposed to people who had to scramble to make digital work.”
Safe solutions for employees
As the world learns to live with the coronavirus, businesses are implementing workplace procedures to make the workplace safer for employees. Today, contactless is the operative word not only for customer payments but also for internal money handling and check writing. “The fewer contact points, the better for everyone,” says Murphy. “That applies to both sides of the house”—at point of sale and in the back of the house, in accounts payable.
Investing in online or app-based payment systems and in POS terminals equipped for tap-and-go payment options not only offers customer convenience and choice, but also saves front-line employees time and minimizes contact.
In addition, companies may find this is the time to invest in smart-safe technology for cash payments. Although many businesses limited cash payments when the pandemic hit, a 2018 study showed that 32% of consumers said they preferred to pay in cash at quick-service restaurants. Smart safes allow a restaurant to accept, validate, record and store cash at the point of purchase. Combined with pickup by a secured vehicle that delivers deposits to a bank branch, smart safes eliminate many employee cash-handling tasks—and reduce touchpoints for employees.
Remote solutions for your business operations
When stay-at-home orders forced businesses to close offices, some companies were caught flat-footed—unprepared for regular financial tasks, including paying vendors. “Some companies found that even with a closed office and many people working from home, someone needed to go into the office to print a check,” Murphy says. In the wake of the pandemic, experts predict more people will continue working from home permanently, on a broader scale.
Director, Global Transaction Solutions
Bank of America
For corporate restaurant staff, moving accounts payable and check production to electronic payment options, such as those offered by Bank of America, is not only cheaper, but also allows AP staff to make payments seamlessly from remote locations. And again, it reduces contact and paper handling. “Companies might not have seen accounts payable as a concern before, but it’s top of mind now,” Murphy says.