As reopened restaurants limit capacity and follow safe dining protocols, reservation apps could help screen for or track potential risks.

By Jelisa Castrodale
June 04, 2020
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Earlier this week, Chicago entered Phase 3 of its coronavirus-related reopening plan, which means that restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining, in addition to continuing to serve takeout and delivery meals. Six streets in the city will be closed in order to provide some additional outdoor seating space without requiring restaurants to play a complicated game of Tetris with their tables and chairs.

There are a number of other requirements in place, including now-familiar rules for social distancing, face coverings, and hand-sanitizer stations. Restaurants have also been instructed to seat no more than six people at a single table, to limit any gathering to 10 people or less, and to move to reservation-only dining.

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Tock, the restaurant reservation and food ordering platform that was launched by Chicago restaurateur Nick Kokonas, is reportedly preparing a "'library' of coronavirus-related questions" that restaurant guests may be asked to answer before they visit one of their favorite local spots. According to Eater Chicago, Tock has always allowed restaurants to create some pre-meal questions for their customers but, in the Before Times, those queries were mostly about dietary restrictions, food allergies, and the like.

Although Kokonas has not specifically said what questions could be included, it's not unreasonable to imagine that they could include things like "Have you experienced a fever, a cough, or other symptoms in the past 24 hours?" or "Have you knowingly been in contact with a COVID-19 patient?" or "Are you currently waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test?"

The contact information that each customer provides—including a phone number or email address—could also be useful in contact-tracing efforts, if a patron is later diagnosed with coronavirus.

Earlier this week, Tock added a contactless ordering feature, and it has plans to add contactless payment options as well, which would allow a restaurant to send the check through an SMS message. Diners would then use their Tock accounts to settle up and tip the waitstaff.

"Not only is this safe in the current environment, but it also saves both the guests and the restaurant a lot of time and needless interactions,” Kokonas told Eater. “Waiving down the waitperson, dropping the check, getting the credit card, running it, dropping it back down, getting the gratuity, and re-punching the tip in the [point-of-sale]—all of that is subject to time, error, and potential fraud—that should all be gone.”

Resy, a similar reservation platform that is now a subsidiary of American Express, could also roll out a similar questionnaire for customers—at least according to one Chicago restaurant owner who uses the service. As of this writing, that is not among the new features that have recently been added to Resy, although it has rolled out an automatic capacity monitor to help restaurants manage the number of diners at a given time, as well as a mobile waitlist for customers.

Food & Wine has reached out to Resy for comment.