In a COVID-19 world, service industries are turning to contact-free tech

Restaurants and hotels are among other industries that have had to rethink their business models to stay afloat, like using apps for people to order food and UV light to clean rooms.
7:30 | 08/05/20

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Transcript for In a COVID-19 world, service industries are turning to contact-free tech
We are just excited to be open. We're excited to serve our customers again. Reporter: For restaurants like this one in Boulder, Colorado, the past several months have been a challenge. When we closed it was devastating. It was like a nuclear bomb went off in our industry. Reporter: He is the co-founder of the kitchen restaurant group, a family of restaurants, including next door. Was there ever a concern you might not reopen? Honestly, some of our restaurants still have not been able to reopen. It's been tough going. Reporter: Since the coronavirus pressed pause on the U.S. Economy in March, more than 110,000 small businesses across the country have closed permanently, according to researchers at Harvard. But musk is one of the lucky ones. After almost three months of uncertainty, he reopened his doors. Gone were the paper menus and checks. Instead, an app, which allows customers to order and pay on their smartphones. I have been thinking about it for years. When covid hit and I dealt with the question of safety for our team, I thought this is the time to build it. Reporter: Even building the app in the time of covid presented its own challenges. We did it all over zoom. Reporter: You did it all over the world and through zoom. It was fun. We had fun doing it, knowing that we didn't have anything else to do. So that's innovating. Reporter: And he's not alone in that innovation. More and more businesses are betting on technology to encourage employees and customers to return. There's definitely a lot of, to put it lightly, a lot of changes happening all around us, specifically when we look at technology. Reporter: But as the innovation solves our most pressing problem, is it also creating future issues? What was the hardest part of putting it to the? The user experience, restaurants are about we storing yourself, going in and connecting with the server, so we wanted to ensure that hospitality stayed in the restaurant experience. Reporter: While you might not have eaten at one of Kimball musk's restaurants, you probably recognize his name, musk, as in the younger brother of Elon. Both companies count Kimball as a team member. They were raised in South Africa and made millions after selling their company and investing in others during the tech boom. Did you talk about on-demand, the app? What does he think of it? He loves it. And in 2018, the car industry essentially collapsed, and I helped my brother get through Tesla's survival there, and now I'm getting advice from him on how to get through the restaurant industry, how do you get through it? It's been fun to have that little example of 2008 to discuss and he's a good cheerleader for me. Reporter: Musk hopes other restaurants will utilize similar technology in the future. We're working with a young startup out of silicon valley that will focus entirely on independent restaurants to build a likeness for them in a very cost-effective way. Reporter:85% of independent restaurants are at risk to close bit end of this year, many turning to services like seamless and doordash to stay the owner of the Beatrice inn in Manhattan had to completely pivot her business model. Our takeout business is doing well. But it's a fraction of the amount of money that we were making before. You know, look, I'm going to be lucky if we break even, to be honest with you. Reporter: The travel industry was also among the hardest hit. Marriott, one of the largest hotel chains in the world closed roughly 2,000 of its locations globally during the peak of the shutdowns. As New York City once considered the epicenter of the virus is now in phase four of reopening, Marriott has used its Brooklyn bridge location as an early adopter of mobile technology. Earlier this summer, their team gave us an exclusive first look inside. Guests have the option to check in on smartphones. In the lobby, a uv light sanitation system is available to disinfect items like phones and wallets. Once upstairs, guests can open the door with a mobile key. They can order room service through an app. You've been forced to rethink the hotel business throughout this pandemic. What are the biggest changes? What we've done quickly is say, let's make sure we're getting the safety cleanliness protocols in place that are central in a time of pandemic like this, which means more intensive guest room cleaning between guests, social distancing in the public spaces. Shields and the like in the public spaces. Reporter: How important are people's smartphones going to be to the future of your business? They've got extraordinary power. I'll confess one of the slowest industries to respond to this was the hotel industry, but this will accelerate that, because I think there is a flavor now of safety as well as digital convenience. Reporter: But while technology could make it possible for customers and employees to return with greater safety, the looming question, could it also be a jobs killer in the long run? Back in March, Marriott furloughed about two-thirds of of its employees, roughly 115,000 people. Does the new technology make any of those jobs obsolete? We don't anticipate that in the near term the use of technology is going to substantially impact their jobs. Reporter: The company recently started bringing back some of those employees. Is there any concern here that this is the kind of app that could ultimately replace people in your business? Will restaurant worker jobs go away? If there was widespread adoption of this? I really don't think so. There are runners that interact with the table. The number of team members doesn't change, but what does change, I think this is very beneficial to the restaurant workers, is they can serve more guests. So they're in actual competition. Their tip goes up. Reporter: With the vaccine timeline still unknown, the new normal becomes unknown. Technology in these industries are now exposed. Reporter: It's likely these advancements, borne partially out of necessity will have a lasting impact. Do you think we ever go back to the days of plastic menus and ordering between person to person with a waiter coming to our table? I think that unlikely. What you don't want to do is turn this into a fast casual experience or fast food experience. So I think balancing that is important. But from a guest convenience and guest happiness perspective and team safety perspective, it's pretty hard to imagine going

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