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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.

When restrictions were lifted and restaurants were allowed to reopen, most restaurant owners jumped at the chance to regain business. But food halls took a slower approach, perhaps due to their collaborative nature. 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 have locations in several cities around the world, including Montreal, Boston and Lisbon, which were the first locations to reopen in July. Time Out New York and Time Out Chicago reopened later in August as well.


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Several tech and design upgrades have been implemented in food halls since customers last visited in March. To enhance the customer experience and comply with safety and sanitation regulations, food halls have added visuals and operational efficiencies that go beyond plain old signage.

At Time Out Chicago, which reopened last week, guests were greeted with a large bright yellow sign that was hard to miss, detailing the new safety guidelines. By way of minimalistic graphic illustrations, the sign relays the changes management has made and what customers can do to follow the protocols. Several hand sanitizer dispensers are also affixed to the sign.

To allow for social distancing and ensure that all eight restaurant concepts are spaced out, only every other vendor booth is operating. Guests follow the arrows on the floor and only the concepts on the periphery are in operation since center aisle vendors have been eliminated for the time being.

The sizeable, 50,000 square-foot facility allows for a good amount of distanced indoor seating. The long communal tables have been separated into sections with colorful plexiglass dividers inscribed with quotes from notable Chicago natives and other celebrities. To enhance sanitation further, an advanced air circulation and filtration system that uses UV light has been installed in the space.

But if indoor dining is still daunting, guests can choose to sit outside on the expanded sidewalk patio. Time Out Markets in Boston, New York and Lisbon also have expanded outdoor areas, a move that has helped all restaurants maintain sales during the pandemic.

Launching in August, Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall opened with COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols already in place. Located in one of Chicago’s medical districts, the food hall has since opened its patio.

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

To allow customers to order and pay from the table, Time Out has a new app that also lets them track the progress of their order through email, text or push notifications. In both food halls, servers are not currently bringing out orders so the diner has to pick up the order from the vendor. There are shields on every station to protect servers and customers.

Like many restaurants, food halls are offering takeout and delivery as well. The integrated payment system at Dr. Murphey’s allows a single guest to choose from any of its ten vendors. Participating eateries at Time Out are providing delivery through DoorDash. By searching “Time Out Market” through the DoorDash website or app, guests can access this feature.

While technology is seemingly taking over in food halls, not all of them are abandoning human interaction. At the front door at Dr. Murphy’s, an ambassador greets everyone, explains the operation and also escorts guests to the area where pickup orders are shelved.