2020: The Year Contactless Technology Went from Being a “Nice to Have” to a “Must-Have” for the Hospitality Industry

By Gabriel Weisz

Prior to this year, contactless ordering and payment technology was making a slow roll into the hospitality industry. While the ability to reduce time spent waiting for a table offered incredible convenience for customers, it wasn’t considered a necessary condition for dining out. But as we all know, 2020 has transformed the way we think about nearly everything – propelling contactless technology from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have” solution.

Our team began work on Kontactless in 2019 as we saw these trends play out across our network of Kallpod clients. Consumers don’t want to wait for a server to place an order when they’re at a crowded restaurant, nor do they want to leave their seat in the middle of an exciting sporting event. Interacting with others can be perfectly pleasant, but the process of getting what we want while enjoying leisurely activities should be efficient and seamless. Despite this desire for efficiency, the transition toward widespread adoption of contactless technology lacked a strong catalyst – until COVID-19 hit.

The global pandemic has had, and will continue to have, an impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. With regard to the hospitality industry, none are as momentous as the new widespread demand for a safer, cleaner environment. The safety and confidence that contactless technology provides — along with the long-term convenience that consumers expect — has made this a must-have offering for hospitality brands to survive the current crisis.

This will not be an arbitrary evolution; changing protocols to honor what matters most to customers has become more important than ever. Part of that involves adapting how we look at the traditional hospitality experience — and what we envision for the future. It wasn’t long ago that table-top tablets were seen as a major leap in service innovation, but renewed awareness of sharing high-contact surfaces with other guests has forced us to rethink this as well.

Before this year, it was nice to be able to use a QR code to place an order when traveling or dining out. It saved us from having to wait for a server and provided less disruption to the overall experience, especially when time is of the essence. While the convenience factor is sure to remain important in the future, safety is now the top priority.

As noted in a recent article in FSR Magazine, 37% of consumers are extremely or very worried about getting sick from other customers if they eat a meal inside a restaurant, and 29% are extremely or very worried about getting sick from employees in the same scenario. For operators dealing with roughly a third of their customer base experiencing anxiety about going out, this is a make or break moment for their business. Contactless technology is one of the best, most seamless ways to provide that level of comfort and security.

Beyond convenience and safety, contactless technology gives the customer greater control over their experience. By allowing guests to place orders, make payments, and leave feedback from their own smartphones, contactless technology puts users in the driver’s seat. As noted in a recent survey by the NACS, “customers are prioritizing businesses that offer pickup, curbside, or contactless services, which jumped from 13% pre-COVID-19 to 49% today.” Additionally, “Americans would like local businesses to continue offering pandemic-friendly solutions after COVID-19 restrictions lift, such as curbside pickup options (80%), food and grocery delivery options (79%), and contactless payment options (78%).”

While this paradigm shift has been in the making for quite some time, contactless ordering and payment technology has taken on a new level of importance in 2020, solidifying its “must-have” status. In Europe, contactless payments have been the norm for years, having only grown during the pandemic – reaching 78% of MasterCard’s European transactions, according to PaymentsSource. This level of adoption was bound to reach North America as well, and as we are seeing, has experienced a major catalytic shift these past few months.

With such adoption finally taking hold here at home, it’s going to be difficult to return to the old ways of doing business. In these volatile times, businesses are being forced to evolve faster than ever before; those that are able to leverage technology to meet consumer concerns will reap the benefits long term.

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