By Tracy Morin

We could not have foreseen this a year ago, but in today’s environment, losing contact with customers is a good thing—at least in the sense of keeping both employees and customers safe in pandemic times by enabling contactless transactions. Whether they’re implementing social-distancing markers or tapping technology to minimize touchpoints, pizzerias at the forefront of this movement are reaping the benefits.

“At Pieology, we’re doing our part to take safe and thoughtful measures for our guests and team members while continuing to provide a fast and friendly experience,” notes Yulree Tio, director of marketing at Pieology, headquartered in Tustin, California, with 130 locations. “We care about their safety, especially during these challenging times, so ensuring that strict health and safety guidelines are implemented within our stores is of the utmost importance to us.”

Related: 7 ways to promote your restaurant’s QR codes for contactless ordering

And going contact-free inside (and outside) the pizzeria isn’t only a necessity for preventing health-related catastrophes; it’s a way to attract more customers to your pizzeria. “Our customer is our No. 1 priority, and to ensure a great guest experience, health and safety became a primary concern as COVID-19 emerged,” says Lisa Dimson, chief marketing officer at Your Pie, headquartered in Athens, Georgia, with 79 locations. “It’s another opportunity for us to take care of our guests, and implementing procedures that are designed to protect them creates a higher comfort level for them.”

“At the start of the pandemic, 8% of U.S. sellers were effectively cashless, meaning at least 95% of their sales were made through credit or debit card. That figure jumped to 31% by the end of April and has since leveled off at 20% as cities reopen.”
— Graham Campbell, Givex

Changing Times

To facilitate a better overall guest experience, Pieology has implemented numerous modes of ordering that help reduce contact and let customers choose the option they’re most comfortable with. “Some of these initiatives include contactless delivery to their home; tamper-proof labels on our to-go boxes; a hands-free QR-code menu in front of our stores so guests can place their orders at a safe distance; online ordering that allows touchless payment; and curbside delivery for those who’d like to pick up their meal and have it delivered to their car,” Tio explains. “On the staff level, we educate and train our teams to ensure they are up to speed on local and county ordinances, thorough and deep-cleaning procedures, and food handling. Ultimately, we work with them to ensure that both they and our guests have a seamless and safe ordering experience.”

Luckily, Your Pie initiated a jump-start toward contactless ordering even before the pandemic hit, investing in technology for online ordering, a new POS system with cutting-edge capabilities, and a new app that allows customers to connect with the brand even without a human presence. Whether customers are entering the store for carryout orders, driving up to take out, or ordering delivery from the pizzeria or a third-party service, contactless is the name of the game.

While crowds could fill Your Pie locations pre-pandemic, today’s guidelines in-store keep customers at a safe distance from fellow diners and employees.

“For example, we had paper menus before, but we removed them for health and safety reasons,” Dimson says. “Now, customers can scan a QR code to view our menu or pull it up through our app on a mobile device and place their order. For customers who preferred the paper menus, we have menu board panels in-store that they can view from a safe distance.” At locations where dine-in is allowed, Your Pie places indicating stickers and marks off tables to maintain social distancing, and Plexiglas has been installed in some stores to add an extra barrier between guests and employees inside the store.

Related: How leading pizza chains are handling delivery and carryout during COVID-19 era

Similarly, Pieology has placed a visible focus on health-protective measures within its locations. “To consistently stress the importance of safety throughout our restaurants, we have placed floor markers along the ordering lines to ensure social distancing is being practiced within our stores,” Tio says. “Additionally, our team members practice consistent glove changing, frequent hand washing, and thorough sanitizing on all high-touch areas throughout the day.”

Naturally, when customers witness these steps in-store, they’re much more likely to place their trust in the business. And, it turns out, going contact-free can offer benefits from the operational side. For Your Pie, using different types of digital ordering channels allows guests to fully customize their experience—not only selecting the ingredients they want on a pizza, but also choosing the time they want it to be ready by using the scheduling feature and the handoff method they prefer, depending on their individual comfort level. In addition to adding an extra layer of safety for guests and team members alike, this enables staff members to maximize their organization skills and become more detail-oriented. As the level of customization increases, the level of precision on the operational side improves in order to meet and exceed customer expectations.

A Table Apart: Fornino’s, with two locations in Brooklyn, New York, has a creative way to serve guests at a safe distance using materials already on hand. Staff members place 7’-long tables in front of the ordering and pickup windows and use extra-long pizza peels to pass orders in baskets to customers.

Future Developments

More changes are on the horizon for Your Pie. The company is preparing to roll out touchless pay systems, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, that allow customers to simply tap a credit card or scan their cell phone to deposit payment for their meals. After all, the fewer touchpoints present, the safer both guests and employees can remain. “Touchless pay requires getting a new piece of equipment that fits on our counter,” Dimson explains. “But there is not a significant cost involved, and it’s an investment that’s definitely worth it from the guest perspective—it shows we’re putting them first and helping to create that great experience in-store.”

Some businesses have done away with cash transactions altogether, and the pandemic has raised this number, says Graham Campbell, CEO of Givex, based in Toronto and with offices around the globe. “Statistics show that at the start of the pandemic, 8% of U.S. sellers were effectively cashless, meaning that at least 95% of their sales were made through credit or debit card,” Campbell says. “That figure jumped to 31% by the end of April and has since leveled off at 20% as cities reopen.”

Campbell points to specific benefits of this choice: Operators don’t have to spend time counting money and ensuring correct balances or arrange a deposit pickup service. A cashless system also reduces the chance of amounts being incorrectly taken from or given to customers and provides modern appeal to certain audiences, such as millennials, who often already use and prefer mobile payments. 

Your Pie released an e-learning platform in October so that employees can brush up on their skills remotely from the safety of their homes.

On the employee side, Your Pie is making changes to its training model to allow for remote learning. “We’re launching a new e-learning platform in October, because that’s how today’s employees like to learn,” Dimson says. “They can undergo training in an easier fashion, at their own pace. We’ll still offer face-to-face training, but this is another option and helps those who learn better through different communication styles.”

Finally, Your Pie is ramping up the guest experience with a new platform that measures guests’ overall experience via technology—asking both digital and in-store customers about their experience in categories like cleanliness, accuracy, ease of ordering, hospitality and more. “Our POS and online ordering, and our rewards program and app, are all highly integrated to watch the consumer at every touchpoint, whether they’re in our stores or ordering through third-party delivery,” Dimson explains. “These technology pieces are driving our service platform.”

With or without a pandemic, customers have been moving toward a contact-free ordering experience for years now, and most experts believe these shifts will continue to occur in a “post-COVID” world. “Safety and cleanliness will remain top of mind throughout our stores and in our online messaging. And with a heightened awareness surrounding cleanliness moving forward, it’s imperative that we continue these practices in our stores to ensure our guests and teams feel safe during the ordering experience,” concludes Nica Yusay, content and social media strategist for Pieology. “Our hope is that as we continue these necessary practices, ordering will once again become second nature to our guests, and they’ll feel entirely comfortable dining in with us.”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.