After Delta caused a surge of new cases last month, San Francisco, New York and New Orleans announced diners must prove they are vaccinated before dining in.
The new rules have led to many new challenges for operators responsible for enforcing them - operators who have already had to turn their businesses around due to the lingering pandemic and subsequent labour crisis.
OpenTable's CEO Debby Soo began hearing from restaurants asking for help enforcing the policies.
She said it threw a wrench in the works, and restaurants are not TSA agents checking documents.
OpenTable responded with four new features intended to help that process. Restaurants that use the system can now:
- display their vaccine policies on their OpenTable page
- verify vaccinated guests for future visits
- communicate with guests via text
- verify vaccination status and issue digital vaccination cards through partnership with Clear
Some of those tools, like the partnership with Clear, will be relevant during the pandemic, said Soo. Direct messaging and guest verification will likely be integrated into the platform permanently.
Direct messages have proven particularly popular. Restaurants use it to communicate Covid policies to guests, but they can also answer questions. Within a month of launching, thousands of restaurants had turned it on, and more than 70,000 messages had been exchanged.
Soo said the pickup had been incredible, demonstrating the need for this tool.
The verification tool is designed to allow restaurants to tag a guest in the system after an employee has confirmed the guest is vaccinated. This process eliminates checking in every guest every time they visit. It could also allow staff to identify guests over 21, with VIP status, or any other information a restaurant may need.
Although OpenTable doesn't have conclusive data, restaurants have said it is saving them time.
Meanwhile, some restaurants had added language to their pages indicating they require proof of vaccination for entry. OpenTable also launched a database of U.S. restaurants that require proof; approximately 500 establishments.
Whilst dining-in is the first thing to decrease as cases increase, it is also the first thing to rebound, said Soo.