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If you read The Branded Weekend Update or subscribe to any Branded content, perhaps you may have heard us say this before; "At Branded we subscribe to the theory that the pandemic has changed nothing, but accelerated everything".

Okay okay, unless you’re new here (we welcome you if you are) you’ve probably heard us say it at least a dozen times. Regardless of our repetitiveness, our theory continues to ring true.

Trends like QR codes, contactless ordering, and curbside pickup were all fast-tracked by the pandemic and continue to remain relevant, they just may look a bit different and work a little more efficiently today.

QR Codes

If anything made a Covid-inspired comeback, it was the QR Code. As restaurants faced daunting questions like: “How do we reduce touch points? How do we securely get our menus into customers’ hands? How can we make customers feel safe when ordering?” The QR Code stepped out of the abyss, raised its little black and white head, and confidently said, “me, Me, ME!”

The once nearly dead QR Code ironically became a lifeline that aided countless businesses, during a critical time, by helping them communicate and connect in what had suddenly become a touchless society. QR Codes not only transformed how restaurants conducted business day-to-day but they have ushered in a whole new era of food service and hospitality.

Today, QR Codes are more than mere mobile menus, they offer a myriad of benefits to users from making reservations to speeding up payments, to simple conveniences like connecting them to WI-FI and even encouraging social media interactions, customer feedback and  loyalty programs.

Here are a few of Branded’s Portfolio Companies elevating the QR space:

Incentivio, is a fully automated intelligence-driven guest engagement platform for restaurants & virtual kitchens that is using QR codes to enhance the guest experience for both first-time visitors & loyalists.

Ovation is bridging the gap between restaurants and guests through actionable guest feedback. Through QR codes, which they’ve dubbed their “easy-button”, operators can utilize Ovation to fix issues in seconds, get more 5-star reviews, and increase customer retention.

GoTab, an end-to-end restaurant commerce platform, had been innovating and leveraging QR Codes for years prior to the pandemic and grew by an incredible 7,000% in 2020.

BBot, one of Branded’s earliest investments, has taken the QR code to the next level through their innovative use of QR Codes and Cloud Tabs that allow for seamless collaboration between guests and servers on a single tab. As QR disruptors, they gained enough attention to be recently acquired by DoorDash.

Although public safety concerns surrounding the pandemic may have brought the QR Code back from near extinction, its current momentum and its future is looking solid.

Fast forward to 2022, as the public continues to return to group gatherings and social activities, it seems they are keen to take QR Codes along with them.

Key stats show that the number of US smartphone users scanning QR Codes will increase from 83.4 million in 2022 to 99.5 million in 2025.

Following its initial inception in 1994, and after falling out of favor for more than 2 decades, QR Codes are perhaps one of the best tech survival stories of the pandemic.

Fortunately, the idea of using QR Codes was just the beginning of how Covid-fueled contactless services would start to take shape, help save the restaurant industry and bring it into the future.

Contactless, Curbside, Drive-Thru & Pick-Up

During the pandemic, major cities restricted restaurants to takeout only, and in turn, off-premise channels skyrocketed. When Covid forced operators to adapt quickly to new safety concerns, and next-level social distancing practices, what many didn’t realize at the time was that those shifts could lead to permanent changes in consumer dining preferences and habits. For many customers, there’s simply ‘no going back.’ Guests are empowered to improve their experience.

In fact, 68% of adults say they’re likely to pay using contactless or mobile payment options if the restaurant offers them. In addition, according to a new study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the SCAN Foundation, 33% of adults under the age of 50, who began using curbside pickup during the pandemic say it is a habit that they expect to continue.

Here are a few of Branded’s portfolio companies offering solutions in the contactless, curbside and drive-thru space:

Bite is on a mission to elevate hospitality everywhere. Bite now offers dynamic drive-thru ordering by integrating with your existing digital menu board to offer each of your guest’s a personalized ordering experience, customizing the menu to their tastes and recommending the items they are most likely to add to their carts.

Curbit makes the handoff magical at your counter, pickup window and parking lot. Curbside simply won’t work without accurate order timing and reliable messaging that orchestrates arrivals. This is what makes Curbit’s curbside a best-in-class solution.

Valyant’s patented drive-thru AI automates the customer ordering process and delivers unprecedented operational efficiencies by reducing customer wait times, increasing average ticket size and mitigating labor shortages.

While pandemic dining restrictions have been lifted, consumers’ preference for convenient, contactless takeout hasn’t. So, what does that mean for both quick-service restaurants and casual-dining brands? The short answer is, pandemic dining habits are here to stay.

Ray Blanchette, CEO of TGI Fridays, says, “Prior to the pandemic, about 9% of our revenue domestically, and even less than that internationally, was generated away from restaurant.” He adds, “Today, we see that is north of 30%. So when the pandemic first started, we thought, well, that might not last. But we’re actually seeing that it’s very sticky.” Sticky indeed.

Do you recall 2020? Let’s face it, no one is going to forget it. Looking back, people were thinking twice about touching a menu, then suddenly those QR Codes that were once foreign to a majority of diners became commonplace when ordering. And, let’s be honest, they are here to stay, as are a plethora of improvements that got accelerated by Covid.

The pandemic got the world thinking about contactless solutions and new off-premise channels which turned into industry-wide adaptations, innovations, and changes that aren’t going away- and that’s a good thing- because this industry isn’t either!