Restaurant Reservations May Require Answering COVID-19 Health Questions

As dine-in restaurants begin to reopen on Wednesday in Chicago, it’s time to become reacquainted with an old friend has fallen by the wayside since March: the ubiquitous dining app. Stay at home gave diners little reason to use them, as Chicagoans began ordering takeout and delivery, spending more time on platforms like Toast, Chow Now, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats.

eReservations apps are hoping to play a larger role in the post-COVID-19 dining world. For instance, Illinois and Chicago dining guidelines suggest that restaurants conduct customer questionnaires, asking diners about their health history. Have they experienced temperatures over 100 degrees? Have they spent time around someone who is or was sick?

Reservation apps, like Resy, OpenTable, and Tock, could require customers to answer these questions as part of their bookings.

That’s what Resy plans to do, says Díana Dávila, chef and owner of Mi Tocaya Antojeria in Logan Square. Reservations aren’t yet up for Mi Tocaya. Dávila says she plans to open her patio on Thursday spacing them out with four tables. She also will limit customers to two-hour stays. Health experts worry that customers who linger will be more susceptible to the novel coronavirus. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that’s one of the reasons why bars without food won’t be able to reopen on Wednesday. Bar customers tend to stay longer than diners and alcohol makes it more challenging to observe social distancing guidelines.

On that note, Dávila says she’ll serve patio customers the same menu as takeout diners. A benefit of having outdoor dining space is for alcohol sales. In March, she hired a new beverage director, Roger Landes (formerly of Bar Sótano), and now it’s time for him to shine.

Utopian Tailgate, the rooftop bar and restaurant, is taking bookings for its Old Town space above Second City comedy club. Scott Weiner, co-owner of UT’s parent company, Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, predicts Wednesday night’s crowds to be “responsibly busy.”

Then there’s Tock, the locally owned reservation system co-founded by Alinea Group’s Nick Kokonas. Tock’s received praise from Chicago officials and industry members for becoming a rival to Grubhub for online ordering during the pandemic.

Seattle restaurant Canlis’s pre-visit questions
Nick Kokonas

Tock already contains functions that can be easily tweaked to suit restaurants’s needs in a post-stay at home Chicago. The portal has always allowed restaurants to create customizable pre-visit queries for diners, Kokonas says. Before the pandemic, these questions usually touched on dietary restrictions, accessibility for diners with mobility concerns, and special events. Now, Kokonas says Tock is working with local and state governments to compile a “library” of coronavirus-related questions restaurants can pose to would-be customers.

The system is also well suited for contact tracing, a system of identifying people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, because it archives all seating, server, and dining information for each restaurant. If a customer begins to show virus symptoms after eating at an establishment on Tock, ownership will be able to identify who else might be at risk. Seattle restaurant Canlis, for example, asks for the name and phone number of every party member.

The company quietly rolled out its latest update on Monday which features contactless ordering, and will eventually include contactless payment, another new function. Kokonas says that has the potential to change the hospitality industry in the long term. It’ll allow any restaurant on Tock to issue a check to a table via SMS, allowing patrons to pay and tip through their own Tock account.

“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 writes. “Waiving down the waitsperson, dropping the check, getting the credit card, running it, dropping it back down, getting the gratuity, and re-punching the tip in the POS — all of that is subject to time, error, and potential fraud — that should all be gone.”

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