New tech adopted throughout COVID serves eating places nicely

COVID-19 forced the restaurant industry to embrace technology that helped limit contact between staff and patrons, and people in the industry say much of that technology is here to stay. Take the QR code, a small square on display at the center of a table at an outpost of Bartaco in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Each QR code is unique to the table, so this is table 43, when the guest rings in on this QR code, the team knows it’s table 43,” said manager Jay Clarke, tapping his cellphone onto the code. A menu comes up and he selects some items.

“There goes my order, and they now are going to make a margarita and some guacamole,” he said.

There are no more waiters at this restaurant, just workers who bring out food. Patrons pay on their phone. The restaurant chain’s “on-demand service” was developed during the pandemic to minimize contact, but Bartaco CEO Scott Lawton wants to keep it.

“It was this weird sort of chocolate-peanut butter moment where we said, ‘Wait a second, this could be part of our service plan, going forward,’” he said.

Table QR codes have popped up in food courts and restaurants around the country. The technology allows a restaurant to hire fewer people, who in turn can earn more, Lawton said.

“We don’t pay a tax-tip wage any longer. We pay a full minimum wage, along with a tip, and everybody, including our dishwasher, is making $20 to $24 an hour,” he said.

COVID-19 has forced a big shifts like these industrywide, said Karen Bremer of the Georgia Restaurant Association.

“Ordering that food, selling the food and collecting payment on the food, every single one of those touchpoints changed,” she said. “The 14 months of technology changes for our industry would have normally taken five to 10 years to embrace.”

It’s made restaurants more efficient, Bremer said, without sacrificing hospitality. Still, on-demand dining at Bartaco is only an option; old-fashioned table service is still available for those who want it.

Why are consumer prices rising?

Some shoppers may have noticed that their grocery bills are higher lately. Prices for energy and used cars and trucks are also up. Jayson Lusk, head of the agricultural economics department at Purdue University, said that multiple factors have been pushing up food prices, including China purchasing more American products recently, more people driving and pandemic-related challenges in supply chains and workforces. Also, wages are up, although productivity has been growing faster than labor compensation for decades. “I expect inflation to probably continue for the next half a year, at least,” Lusk said.

Read more about inflation here.

What does the CDC’s most recent mask guidance mean for stores and their workers?

By now you’ve heard the news on that guidance: Vaccinated people no longer need to wear a face mask indoors in most settings. Still, local governments and businesses are permitted to require them. Mask mandates have been tricky, even dangerous, for public-facing businesses to navigate. Retail workers around the country have been harassed and physically attacked while enforcing mask mandates. “The updated guidance has created an impossible situation for retailers,” said Lisa LaBruno, senior executive vice president of retail operations & innovation with the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “There is now ambiguity in expectations, both from retail team members and from customers.”

Why do you have to be out of work for more than six months before you’re classified as “long-term unemployed”?

After all, people start feeling the stress and financial hardship of long-term unemployment before they hit the 27-week mark. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.2 million Americans are long-term unemployed. Patrick Carey, an assistant commissioner in the Office of Employment and Unemployment at the statistics bureau, has one explanation. “The breakout of 27 or more weeks accords well with the maximum length of time that many states offer regular unemployment insurance benefits,” Carey said.

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