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How Food Halls are Using Tech and Design to Reopen Safely

How Food Halls are Using Tech and Design to Reopen Safely

Small tweaks and larger changes are in store for customers as they visit food halls in the age of COVID-19 (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall).

While many restaurants rushed to reopen as soon as restrictions were lifted, food halls have taken a slower approach. Time Out Market was one of the first chains of food halls to close during the pandemic and it wanted to be fully prepared and thoughtful about reopening.

Time Out Markets operate in several cities worldwide. Lisbon’s food hall was the first to reopen, followed by Montreal and Boston, all in July. In August, Time Out New York and Time Out Chicago reopened as well.


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Customers visiting the food halls for the first time since March will find many tech and design upgrades. While these were made to comply with safety and sanitation requirements, the visuals and operational efficiencies go beyond to enhance the guest experience.

Time Out Chicago, which reopened last week, greets guests with an oversized bright yellow sign detailing all the new safety guidelines. Graphic illustrations relay what management has done and what customers can do to follow the protocols. Affixed to the sign are several hand sanitizer dispensers.

Guests follow the arrows on the floor to eight restaurant concepts, spaced out so that only every other vendor booth is operating to allow for social distancing. Witty signage separates the booths and only the concepts on the periphery are in operation.

The 50,000 square-foot space allows for plenty of distanced indoor seating, and the long communal tables are separated into sections by colorful plexiglass dividers inscribed with quotes from Chicago natives and other notables. An advanced air circulation and filtration system uses UV light to enhance sanitation.

But guests can also sit outside on the expanded sidewalk patio. Time Out Markets in Lisbon, Boston and New York also have expanded outdoor areas, a move that has helped all restaurants boost sales during the pandemic.

Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall, which launched at the beginning of August, opened with COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols in place. The food hall, which is located in one of Chicago’s medical districts, has since opened its patio.

Both Dr. Murphy’s and Time Out offer contactless order and pay, with QR codes on all the tables and bar to perform both functions. Along with the QR codes, Dr. Murphy’s uses Apple Pay, integrated with every vendor’s point-of-sale (POS) system.

Time Out has a new app from which customers can order and pay from the table. They can then track the progress of their order through email, text or push notifications. In both food halls, the diner has to pick up the order from the vendor; servers are not currently bringing out orders. Shields on every station protect servers and customers.

Food halls are now offering takeout and delivery as well. At Dr. Murphy’s, the integrated payment system allows a single guest to choose from any or all of the ten vendors. Time Out is providing delivery through DoorDash from participating eateries. Guests can access this feature by searching “Time Out Market” through the DoorDash website or app.

But these food halls are not abandoning human interaction in favor of technology. Dr. Murphy’s stations an ambassador at the front door to greet everyone and explain the operation. The ambassador will also escort guests to the area where pickup orders are shelved.