Some Pandemic Food Tech Here to Stay

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll of U.S. adults released July 5 reveals nearly half of U.S. adults want to ditch virtual activities and ordering groceries online – but they’d still like to have the option.

Fewer than 30% of the 1,001 respondents said they were very likely to use digital options at least some of the time, even though just 12% said they feel their lives have returned to pre-pandemic norms.

“Many expect to leave behind some of the ways of pandemic life: More than half think it is unlikely they personally will do things like have groceries delivered (66%), attend virtual activities (62%), [and] shop during senior hours (62% of those age 60 and older),” the pollsters found.

And though consumers appear eager to go back into stores and restaurants, much of the technology that exploded during the pandemic is here to stay, including contactless ordering and payment, as well as digital systems for preparing meals.


“Any technology that takes over repetitive or dangerous tasks for staff will continue to stay and improve, such as waiter-like server robots or kitchen assistants like the burger robot Flippy. These technologies also allow restaurants to focus more on providing better service to customers,” Taka Tanaka, CEO of AUTEC, told The Food Institute.

Curbside delivery was a big hit with consumers during the pandemic, not only because it minimized contact with other people, but because of the convenience factor. Tanaka said we could see an increase in food lockers as automation becomes more readily available and restaurants continue to be squeezed by labor shortages.

“I personally think that curbside delivery should be kept for longer because aside from the convenience factor it offers to the customers, it also saved a lot of business and boosted the community,” said Lydia Martin, founder of Liquor Laboratory. “It was helpful even before the pandemic, but the pandemic made it essential.

“The only downside of curbside delivery is that there is less customer experience, since they won’t be able to enjoy the ambiance of a restaurant or bar, as well as its services,” she added.


Austen Asadorian, vice president of sales for hospitality guest management platform SevenRooms, said restaurants should come up with strategies for getting customers back inside.

“This could be as simple as inviting a local delivery customer into the restaurant for half-priced wine bottles or offering an on-premises customer their favorite dessert on the house when they order for pickup,” Asadorian said.

Harry Gallagher, chief technology officer of Life Part 2, said he worked in a restaurant during the pandemic and thinks people are getting tired of the convenience factor of easy pickup, seeking a more interactive experience.

“This means that restaurants that focus on providing a unique dining experience are likely to be more successful in the future,” he said, noting online ordering was not new when the pandemic hit; it just grew more widespread.

“Now is the time for restaurant groups to optimize their online ordering services and platforms, for both take-out and curbside pickup,” said Josh Duke, senior operations manager at Sonny’s BBQ. “While consumers are dining in a variety of ways, in-person experiences are still core to Sonny’s BBQ. We’ve refined our on-premises experience with remodeling and new store prototypes.”