The retail and service industries are finding creative and tech-driven ways to safely welcome customers and employees into their businesses. With the majority of consumers reporting they’ll be more cautious about cleanliness, health and safety post-pandemic, the behaviors that have long characterized the hospitality, shopping, beauty and food and beverage industries are being re-imagined for a more touchless tomorrow. To accommodate the more than 62% of consumers who intend to rely more heavily on touchless technology, small businesses like those below are transitioning to mobile reservations and check-ins, two-way texting, contactless payments, keyless/touchless entry, and QR codes and instructional signage to mitigate concerns and maximize success.

 Interior of Automat Kitchen.
Reinventing classic comfort food in a welcoming yet 100% contactless way at Automat Kitchen in Jersey City. — Automat Kitchen

Steve Scutellaro, marketing & technology, Automat Kitchen

Who We Are: Jersey City, NJ's delicious and convenient dining experience where food is made-to-order and made-to-go.

Automat Kitchen was built with modern technology at the heart of our concept. The original intention was to be the most convenient place to eat, but it turns out we could be the safest as well. Our experience is centered around our delivery wall, which includes 20 locked cubbies where customers retrieve their made-to-order food. Guests can choose when they want their order to be ready, open their cubby by replying "open" to the confirmation text, and then dine in or take out. Customers love an entirely contactless experience where they don't have to interact with any people if they don't want to — which also means they can be on their way much quicker.


With any new technology there's a bit of a learning curve, so we've seen some customers default to traditional ordering methods. But once they realize they can order ahead and retrieve directly from their cubby, they see the advantage. We believe that our concept represents the future of food service. While technology will continue to play a larger role, it can't be solely in the name of operational efficiency. While there are efficiencies to a concept like Automat Kitchen, we exist to deliver a more personalized and convenient experience. The future of food service and technology needs to be human-centric and focused on customer benefits. It all falls apart without the passion, perspective and empathy that technology alone can't deliver. And it also means that the digital, mobile and physical footprint of restaurants will need to become more blended and customized, too. Follow Automat Kitchen on Instagram, Facebook & LinkedIn.

 Bright blue lobby of the Cabot Lodge.
Keyless mobile-based room entry is one of the ways The Cabot Lodge in Beverley, MA has integrated touchless technology into their guest experience. — The Cabot Lodge

Mae Yenter, operations and business development manager, The Cabot Lodge

Who We Are: A 13-room boutique hotel on Boston’s North Shore in Beverly, MA that provides every guest with a personalized, local experience.

Our entire business model was based on keyless entry, so when lockdown hit only four months after opening, we were more prepared than many of our peers. All guests are urged to self-check-in using our FLEXIPASS Bluetooth mobile keys, where they can access the front door and their individual room on their own, at their convenience. This has made guests feel much more comfortable in traveling to our property since they’re given the option of eliminating staff interactions. Of course, there are some guests who are not tech-confident, but we assist by being as communicative as possible. We call each guest several days before their stay to walk them through everything they need to know about our property, as well as send them email instructions that illustrate the mobile key process. We also have classic, physical hotel keys to fall back on. Guest safety and comfort is of utmost importance, so I think that automation and touchless technology will be the future of hospitality. Follow The Cabot Lodge on Instagram & Facebook.

 Display of blue and white housewares on sale at Splurge.
With a vast array of choices, a wide range of price points and old-fashioned customer service, customers can find something for everyone on their list at Splurge in Greenwich, CT. — Splurge

Sonia Sotire Malloy, owner, Splurge

Who We Are: A unique destination in Greenwich, CT for beautiful gifts, home decor and jewelry as well as clothing and specialty items for tween girls.

Since March 2020, SPLURGE has offered a variety of contactless shopping opportunities for our customers. We offer FaceTime and Google Duo shopping appointments, we text or email curated gift choices to our customers, we post daily on Instagram and Facebook and we send a weekly email blast. During a virtual shopping appointment, customers are able to have an in-store experience from the comfort of their home, along with the high level of customer service that they’ve become accustomed to. Once product choices have been made, we continue with contactless delivery, either by dropping items in a customer’s trunk or dropping them off at their doorstep. We also ship all over the country. This new business model has been fun and has opened up our store and services to people who don’t live in our area. In fact, a few weeks ago, we had four little girls across the country do a virtual shopping spree with their grandmother via FaceTime! We’ve also adopted a contactless payment process by offering tap to pay credit card processing and we keep the door propped open at all times, which welcomes our customers and enables them to enter without touching anything. We plan to continue to offer these services and advertise them weekly in our email blasts and on our website. Follow Splurge on Instagram & Facebook.

 Display of food by ACT Catering & Events.
ACT Catering now accepts catering orders online, communicates with clients via text and offers a Wrapped Attention menu of individually wrapped items in compostable containers. — ACT Catering

Kristine Seinsch, founder/owner, ACT Catering & Events

Who We Are: Full service caterers out of Berkeley, CA who provide delightful, local cuisine, flawless service and unforgettable events in the Bay Area.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought our catering company to a complete stand still on Monday March 9, 2020. By April, we had our first online ordering menu up and running for customers to order either for contactless delivery or pickup. The online platform we chose and are still using had as many learning curves, as we did. That said, we stayed the course and overcame all challenges. With the complete still stand of the catering industry, our purchasing process moved from ordering supplies online to going back to the roots of mostly shopping directly at small local vendors. Here at ACT Catering, customer service is part of our mission. Moving our clients to online ordering did not mean that we are no longer available for them. Especially being a food service entity — meaning our product is perishable, we have to be available for our customers if questions arise. The best shopping experience starts with the best merchant experience, even if the business moves online. We started weekly newsletters promoting menus and special offerings and are currently finishing our online ordering platform for our catering clients, allowing them to order large orders for contactless deliveries. Follow ACT Catering & Events on Instagram & Facebook.

 The Argos Inn outdoor bar at night with bistro lighting.
Argos Inn and Bar Argos offer guests a beautiful place to relax and enjoy themselves, integrating safety protocols throughout in innovative new ways. — Argos Inn

Avi Smith, owner/proprietor, Tippy Ard; bar manager, Argos Inn/Bar Argos

Who We Are: A boutique hotel offering a modern take on the classic inn in Ithaca, NY.

Argos Inn is a nationally registered historic building, previously serving as the mayor’s house. While we had staff on-site at the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to give guests the option of contactless check-in “mail boxes.” We installed an entire grid of re-purposed P.O. boxes and assigned one per hotel room which is where guests now access their key and a welcome letter. Guests tend to be very charmed by this.

When we were forced to close down our Bar Argos in March 2020, we decided to repurpose an old carriage house on the property and relocate the bar there, migrating to a patio bar setup. To operate safely with as little FaceTime as possible between guests and the bartender, we moved to a contactless ordering system. Everyone is greeted by a host to add a personal touch and to explain the ordering process. We use QR codes located at the table and on the menus, and guests are instructed to use their phones to go to our online ordering platform to place and pay for their orders. Our POS system offered an online option which is what we use to facilitate bar delivery service. It is not seamless because it simulates ordering takeout rather than table service and, while it serves a purpose, we are hopeful that system changes are forthcoming. Another downside is that the platform will not allow us to program a suggested gratuity into the checkout process, which means we’ve seen a decrease in gratuities. We have remedied this with signage and have been able to manually pre-set an 18% auto-gratuity into each check. It’s been really well received. The fact that people feel safe when they come here is huge. Although some people have difficulty with technology, everyone has been willing to play along and finds the contactless ordering to be really convenient. Follow Argos Inn on Instagram & Facebook, and follow Bar Argos on Instagram.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published April 19, 2021