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Restaurants turn to tech tools to streamline vaccine requirements, verification

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As more restaurants begin to require customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, many are enlisting technology solutions to streamline the process of informing diners and verifying their vaccination status. 

New York City, New Orleans and San Francisco have all issued mandates that people must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants and other public spaces, and many individual restaurant operators across the country are creating similar requirements for their own businesses. 

States, cities debut vaccine apps and portals

Some cities and states are rolling out platforms and apps designed to act as vaccine passports to aid restaurants and other establishments in verifying patrons’ vaccination status.

The state of New York has a digital vaccine app called Excelsior Pass, and New York City has its own app called NYC Covid Safe. The latter simply allows users to take and store a photo of their vaccine card in the app, while the former -- the first vaccine passport app to be issued by the US government -- was developed by IBM and will cost the state an estimated $27 million, according to The New York Times.

Illinois launched its own online vaccination portal last month called Vax Verify. The state does not require businesses to ask for proof of vaccination, although several Chicago aldermen are seeking a proof of vaccination rule for the city, the Chicago Tribune reported. The development of vaccine portals by states and other areas that don’t yet require proof of vaccination for entry into restaurants and other spaces suggests that there is still demand from citizens looking to have an easy way to confirm their vaccination status and from restaurants with their own vaccine mandates.

“With the current surge in cases, more people are making the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine and this new tool will aid residents in confirming their vaccination where needed,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.

Reservation, POS services add vaccine verification features

In addition to the apps and portals offered by cities and states, many technology companies that work directly with restaurants have added features to assist eateries with getting the word out about vaccine requirements and verifying customers’ vaccination status.

Yelp recently added new features that allow restaurants to list on their business pages if they require diners to be vaccinated and if their staffs are fully vaccinated. The review and reservations platform announced in a blog post that it would be monitoring the pages of restaurants that use these features to “help protect businesses that may experience backlash for their vaccination policies.”

While adopting proof of vaccination policies has caused some restaurants to receive negative reviews or have to deal with customers who push back against the policy when asked for proof of vaccination, many people are seeking out establishments that require vaccines becasue of the added safety. In fact, the number of people who said they would be more likely to dine at a restaurant that asked diners to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors was slightly higher at 33% than the 32% of those surveyed who said it would make them less likely to dine at a restaurant, according to survey results published in the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Industry Mid-Year Update. Thirty-five percent of adults surveyed said it wouldn’t impact their restaurant use either way.

Making customers aware of vaccination policies in advance can help eateries avoid some confrontations with customers who weren’t aware of the policy before trying to dine at a certain restaurant. The National Restaurant Association suggests that restaurant operators avoid surprising or disappointing customers by amplifying their proof of vaccination policies on websites, review and reservation platforms, ordering apps and social media posts.

SpotOn, a restaurant point-of-sale software provider, recently added a feature that lets its restaurant customers alert diners to their vaccine policy and give them the option of identifying themselves and members of their parties as vaccinated when they make a reservation. 

“Making customers aware of vaccination policies in advance helps to not only communicate requirements and avoid confusion at the door, but also allows restaurants and their staff to more quickly check in and seat or serve their guests,” said Doron Friedman, SpotOn’s co-founder and chief product officer.

While restaurants still have to verify diners’ vaccination records before each party is seated, the option to have diners identify themselves as vaccinated before arriving can still save precious time for busy restaurant staffers, Friedman said. 

“As labor is an issue across the board, it’s more important to find efficiencies at every turn, and SpotOn’s vaccination feature helps restaurants find those efficiencies in the guest communication and check-in process.”

Friedman said the reception of the vaccine feature from clients that use SpotOn Reserve for reservations and waitlisting has been “overwhelmingly positive,” and the company is looking forward to releasing more features to help “clients quickly adapt to changing regulations and guidelines.”

Reservation platform OpenTable is planning to go one step further with the rollout of a feature this month that would allow diners to show proof of vaccination through digital vaccine cards from secure identity company CLEAR that are integrated into the OpenTable app.  OpenTable CEO Debby Soo said in a statement that the “collaboration aims to streamline restaurant entry, saving time for both restaurant staff and diners and lets everyone focus on the meal, not the logistics.” 

 

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