Restaurants may ask you to fill out COVID-19-related questions before dining

Mobile waitlists, contactless payments and surveys are becoming a part of the new normal when it comes to dining out.
/ Source: TODAY

Nearly three months after nonessential businesses across the country were ordered to shut down at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, 43 states have begun to reopen and many are now allowing restaurants to operate at partial capacity.

To help protect the health and safety of customers and employees, some restaurants are now using reservation apps to provide coronavirus-related information to diners. At least one service will let restaurants using the platform gather health data about potential patrons.

Over the last two weeks, restaurant booking and management service Resy has been working with restaurants in more than 200 cities to provide new tools for eateries as they reopen. There are three new functions: a mobile waitlist, a capacity monitor and Resy At Home.

Download the TODAY app for the latest coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.

The mobile waitlist allows guests to add themselves to a restaurant's waitlist if they are nearby, which will ideally prevent crowding at the restaurant's host stand or bar area. The capacity monitor helps eateries follow state-mandated occupancy regulations and will automatically close online reservations if the restaurant hits capacity. Resy At Home will allow customers to order takeout meals.

Resy

When reached via email, a spokesperson for Resy told TODAY that while the company "has not launched a pre-reservation survey/questionnaire related to COVID, restaurants can use Resy's custom communication tools to communicate with guests about health and safety protocols as they see fit."

A restaurant can tell future customers whether their temperatures will be checked upon arrival, if the bar area is open for business or if they will be able to use contactless menus and payment options.

Restaurants also have the option to send their customers a survey asking about their experience. Resy says this feature will enable individual restaurants to gather feedback on how to improve their practices.

Reservation site OpenTable is also utilizing post-dining feedback surveys to help restaurants improve service as they reopen.

"The restaurants want to be the most hospitable to the diner," Joseph Essas, OpenTable's chief technology officer, told TODAY. "And the diner is looking for all the information to get excited about going out, but also information to know that they are going to be safe and everything is healthy. So, for us, it's kind of an intersection of these two."

OpenTable has provided tools for restaurants to easily tell diners what safety precautions they are now taking. The platform has also rolled out virtual waitlists, mobile table alerts and a function that enables diners to see where in the restaurant their table will be located.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Tock (a reservation ticketing system), allowed restaurants to use customizable pre-dining questionaries to help inform staff about any dietary restrictions, mobility needs or special occasions.

Tock is now working with local and state governments across the country to create a "library of coronavirus related questions that restaurants can pose to would-be customers."

"Questionnaires enable restaurants to ask for information ahead of a diner's experience to provide better hospitality ... as well as, in the current environment, to address any COVID-19-related requirements," Kyle Welter, Tock's director of marketing, told TODAY.

Through Tock, some restaurants may start asking for the contact information of everyone in your dining party as you make a reservation.

However, out of the 200-plus restaurants using the platform, none are currently requiring customers to answer questions prior to visiting or making a reservation. However, if they do choose to include a questionnaire, customers may be asked questions like whether they prefer to be seated inside or outside, in addition to providing party contact information.

"If and when municipalities and other government agencies mandate contact tracing, Tock can enable that for restaurants in accordance with such requirements as they may arise, including the appropriate notifications and disclosures to the guests at such time," Welter explained.

However, OpenTable's Essas said he's skeptical of the competition's new offering and believes attempting to collect this information from guests becomes complicated quickly.

"Every city, every state, every county has their own rules on what they would like to collect, what they would not like to collect," he said. "At some point it becomes extremely cumbersome. How can you trust what the diners are telling you? I'm not really sure that can accomplish much."

Even if restaurants are not requiring COVID-19 questionnaires, Essas believes that by providing as much information to guests as possible, while creating more tools for businesses that will help keep workers and diners safe, restaurants will be able to reopen safely.