- OpenTable announced Monday that it is expanding its restaurant reservation platform to let consumers book shopping times at local restaurants and grocery stores.
- Users can choose among open shopping time slots and make a reservation or join the waitlist. The shopping windows and amount of people allowed per party vary by retailer and customers can sign up for a text notification when it is their turn to shop.
- The service currently has seven partners across Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. Six of the stores are restaurants turned pop-up grocers and one is a local grocery chain. OpenTable told The Verge it is currently in talks with national grocery chains.
OpenTable’s platform promises to help restaurants and grocers keep crowds down without making shoppers wait in long lines to enter stores. Consumers have already shifted 10% of their share-of-stomach away from restaurants and to groceries during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with grocery sales up nearly 53% as of the week of March 25 compared to the same week last year, according to Black Box Intelligence. While many restaurants have been shifting their operations to offer groceries out of their kitchen supplies, grocers have still been seeing unprecedented demand.
A growing number of retailers, including Costco and Trader Joe’s locations, have set restrictions on the amount of people allowed inside at one time. These measures keep store flow manageable, helping shoppers and workers maintain social distancing. But waiting shoppers queue up outside and don't always maintain the recommended six-foot spacing health officials recommend.
"Not only does this help control crowds in a simple and contactless way, it also provides a safer option for shoppers, especially those at high risk, to get their groceries without waiting in a crowded line,” OpenTable said in a press release.
Grocers like Albertsons, Publix and Raley's have introduced early morning hours for seniors, expecting mothers and immunocompromised customers. But public officials say it's unsafe to have these individuals most vulnerable to COVID-19 all gathering in the same place, HuffPost reported. WTSP News reported overcrowding during a recent senior hour at a Publix in Tampa, Florida.
In Seattle, Town & Country Market operates an online waiting system similar to OpenTable's. Shoppers put in their name and number and receive a text when it's time for them to shop. Other retailers have closed down their stores altogether and shifted to online service only, including a Kroger store in Cincinnati.
Grocery stores saw a dramatic increase in foot traffic as coronavirus fears drove panicked shoppers into stores. The rush seems to have moderated, but as the virus spreads grocery stores are seen as increasingly risky places to work and shop.