Ananya Pathak

“Contactless dining is expected to be the new reality of eating out”: Zomato’s COO Gaurav Gupta

After contactless delivery, the food delivery app is set to introduce contactless dining service. Here’s how it will work...

These are uncertain times. On one hand, there's the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the other, there's the anticipation of what lies ahead. As far as the dining out culture goes, one can expect changes in future. In fact, Gaurav Gupta, co-founder and COO, Zomato, expects contactless dining to be the new reality of eating out in a post COVID-19 world.

“Contactless dining is expected to be the new reality of eating out”: Zomato’s COO Gaurav Gupta

The restaurant aggregator and food delivery app is set to introduce ‘contactless dining’ service. It will minimise customer contact with anything that someone else might have touched – by eliminating the use of high-touch elements at restaurants.

While introducing the service, Zomato, in a blog post, lists components of the contactless dining service – contactless menu, contactless ordering and contactless payment. Diners will be required to scan a QR code on the table to explore the restaurant menu. They will be able to place and modify their orders on the app, thus eliminating the need to contact the waiting staff. They will also be able to make bill payments through the app, thereby removing another layer of human contact.

The waiting staff will still be needed to bring the food from the kitchen. The blog states, “... but as long as the waiting staff is wearing a mask, and following the highest hand hygiene standards, we should all be okay.”

Zomato introduced contactless delivery feature in the initial phase of the lockdown. The feature ensures that the delivery partner leaves the food package outside the customer's home. So, there's no human-to-human interaction and hence, there's less risk of any transmission of the virus. The brand has also started delivering groceries in 80-plus cities across India.

In the coming weeks, the brand will reach out to all dining out restaurants for contactless dining.

We got in touch with Gupta to better understand how the new service will work.

Gaurav Gupta
Gaurav Gupta

“The objective is to rebuild the confidence in users post lockdown by providing them with a tech-enabled dining experience, with the least risk to health and safety,” he says.

“We will be working with as many restaurants as possible to enable this flow for users in their premises, and will be showcasing these specific restaurants to users for making an informed choice on where to eat out,” Gupta added.

The brand is also building additional features on the app — such as the ability to order multiple courses, and the option to pay for yourself, or the entire table.

In the first phase, Zomato plans to start the service in India, UAE, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Lebanon and Qatar. “We plan to begin the implementation as soon as the lockdown is lifted across these countries,” Gupta mentions.

But how will Zomato ensure that the dining places follow the set guidelines? Gupta responds, “As hygiene takes precedence, we are recommending restaurants to judiciously follow the protocols laid out by the health authorities. To encourage this, we are adding safety features on the app, wherein restaurants will be able to self-report safety and hygiene measures that they undertake - sanitisation, food hygiene, distanced layout, staff hygiene and awareness. Prompts on the Zomato app will reveal the restaurant’s hygiene records to assist users in informed decision making.”

“This mechanism is being built for a post lockdown execution and will also evolve basis regular feedback from our restaurant partners and users,” he adds.

Additionally, Zomato has decided to extend all paid Zomato Gold memberships by two months at zero cost. Gold is a dine out and social drinking membership program that extends special perks, like a complimentary dish and up to two complimentary drinks every time one dines out at Zomato’s partner restaurants in India. All proceeds from the Zomato Gold subscriptions in the month of April will go towards supporting restaurant workers in need, and the users will get an additional year of Gold free.

Apart from WHO guidelines, like ensuring the restaurant premise is sanitised and staff is taking all precautionary measures, Zomato has also added safety features, like the outlets are to arrange tables at least one metre apart from each other.

Meanwhile, Dineout, the dining out and restaurant tech platform, has launched end-to-end ‘contactless dining suite’ for Indian restaurants to ensure they have the right seamless plug-and-play technology and sanitation requirements to support no-contact dining for the foreseeable future.

This will cover pre-ordering, contactless valet, contactless seating, contactless menu, contactless payments and online feedback systems.

Dineout will also provide a PPE safety kit for restaurants and ensure hygiene measures at the restaurant. It will even facilitate COVID free certification for restaurants through a licensed lab to ensure that all the microbiological tests are in place before they restart, post lockdown.

So, what do brand consultants think about the contactless dining concept? Harish Bijoor, a brand guru and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, says, “Zomato has risen to the need of the moment. I think it can be made to work. All it needs is operational rigour and training. I am sure Zomato can do it! And do it good!”

Harish Bijoor
Harish Bijoor

Creative consultant L Suresh opines that contactless dining by itself is not a new concept. “I've been to a health food restaurant in my city where the buffet was on conveyor belts, and anything you might want constantly goes past you for you to pick up. Another restaurant in Chennai uses robots as waiters. There have also been other arrangements where automated menus, digital payments and mini-lifts carry the food straight to the table from the kitchen,” he explains.

He points out that Zomato's contactless dining eliminates the point of contact during the ordering and payment stages, but still forces a human interaction at the point of delivery. “To me, Zomato's contactless delivery is more efficient as even delivery doesn't require the customer to interact with the delivery personnel,” he says.

L Suresh
L Suresh

“Another concern, especially in these trying times, is that the food is being prepared, transferred onto plates and served by humans. Despite all the promises of adherence to stringent safety and health measures, one has no way of knowing how careful the kitchen staff has been. In the coming months, restaurants are going to have their hands full in trying to get business back on its feet. Will contactless dining encourage more walk-ins than, say, home delivery? I would think not. In my opinion, it's going to take a lot more for people to lose their fear of infection and contamination before they venture out for a meal,” Suresh signs off.