Ordering your meal from an iPad embedded in the table was once the preserve of the odd trendy London restaurant.
But while such gimmicks were once hailed solely for their novelty factor, the Covid-19 pandemic is now forcing shops and restaurants to embrace technology in ways never before considered, with apps to show which stores are busy and online menus to reduce the need for contact with staff.
The hospitality and retail industries are working frantically to devise new ways of operating, with experts revealing that a meal at a restaurant might be more akin to ordering a takeaway, while popping to the shops might require logging onto an app to see how many people are inside.
Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG, said the crisis would rapidly accelerate the adoption of new technology due to sheer necessity.
“Social distancing is here to stay,” he said.
“The core principle is how do you avoid as much contact as possible? Technology will very much come to the fore.
“We have a sizeable number of stores that are pretty small and with the one-in-one-out method, we are currently expecting staff to crowd manage.
“We need to consider whether technology could make the approach more sophisticated as well as diffusing potential conflict.”
He said countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore were already using apps that record footfall using infrared sensors and advise consumers about the best times to visit.
In restaurants, diners are ordering on an app, picking up their food and taking it to their own tables. Such technology is also used to stagger arrivals.
Crave Interactive, a British company whose software is used for room service in luxury hotels, has said its technology could be used in pubs and restaurants, allowing diners to scan a QR code on arrival, then be directed to their table via their phone. They would be able to order and pay on their phone and be alerted to collect their food when it is ready to collect.
Mr Martin, one of many consultants advising ministers about the way forward, did not rule out the use of robots to deliver food or drinks ordered online, with such innovations successfully used in cities such as Shanghai before the pandemic.
“In hospitality, menus will be online, ordering will be done online,” he added. “The safety of staff is key.”
Not only are restaurants having to rethink the way in which food is ordered and served but also the way it is prepared.
Kitchens will have to be reconfigured to reduce the number of chefs crammed into relatively small spaces, meaning menus will also have to be redesigned.
Peter Ducker, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality, said: “Kitchens are not designed for people to stay apart, it’s a big issue.
“Chefs will have to rethink menus to get better efficiency and redesign dishes so that certain stations are not required. Dishes made at certain stations would be removed as well as those assembled by chefs on multiple stations. It’s not without its challenges.”
James Stagg, deputy editor of Caterer.com, agreed that social distancing rules would mean vast and long term changes to every aspect of the business.
“The hospitality industry is very concerned about reopening,” he said. “Any social distancing for hotels and restaurants will reduce covers and require a drastic change to the business model.
“The industry is working on a basis that for the next year, they are working to a very different business plan and looking at a 50 per cent drop in turnover.”
With tables having to be spaced further apart, larger establishments will have an advantage over cosy bistros.
Some, such as Bocca di Lupo in Soho, are considering turning private dining rooms into second dining rooms, group bookings will be capped and many will erect partitions and screens between tables.
To make them more aesthetically pleasing, managers are considering using art installations, large format graphics or drapery.
Some restaurants in Dubai have switched to plastic cutlery and disposable menus, also likely to become a mainstay in the UK, while many are likely to insist on hand sanitiser and temperature checks at the door.
Several hotel groups, including Intercontinental, have announced that they have already dispensed with the breakfast buffet, moving instead to à la carte and pre-packaged breakfast, much to the chagrin of some.