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Business trends

More Australia restaurant-goers get a taste of digital menus

Using smartphones to order and pay gain popularity on coronavirus fears

If restaurant customers tap their smartphone on “me&u,” a disk-shaped device about 8cm in diameter and visible at the top right of the pictured table, a digital menu appears on the smartphone screen. The device is likely to expand its footprint in Australia on coronavirus fears. (Photo courtesy of me&u)

SYDNEY -- "Contactless" is now a buzzword in various parts of the world due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sydney, Australia's biggest city where restrictions on restaurant operations have been eased, is no exception.

While customers have begun to return to cafes and restaurants, such facilities are not only complying with social distancing measures but also introducing digital menus.

That comes as more customers in Australia want to steer clear of conventional paper menus handled and touched repeatedly by many different people, for fear of being infected with the virus.

Particularly unique is "me&u," a disk-shaped device about 8cm in diameter. It allows restaurant-goers to look at menus and order and pay for food with their smartphones. Demand for the device is growing as its contactless function gains attention.

Among eateries that have introduced me&u devices is Shuk Bondi, a cafe near a famous beach popular with tourists and locals in eastern Sydney. Since the outlet introduced me&u devices at the end of 2019, the percentage of customers using them has gradually risen.

Introduction of me&u devices has reduced waiters' workloads by around 20% and now 10% of customers use them to order, according to the cafe's 41-year-old owner Yoni Kalfus.

The device is simple to use.

If a customer sits down at the table and taps his or her smartphone on the me&u, a digital menu appears on an internet browser. In the case of a non-compliant smartphone, a customer scans a quick response, or QR, code to access a menu page and then orders.

Customer use an online payment system to settle the bill. With an iPhone, they use Apple Pay, U.S.-based Apple's electronic payment service.

The me&u system was commercialized in July 2019 after being developed by Stevan Premutico, who founded it. The system and the company share the same name. The initial aim of the me&u system was to reduce waiting times at pubs and cafes, Premutico said.

At Australian pubs, customers usually order and pay for each drink at the counter, where it is not uncommon for lines to form. While the me&u system helps customers avoid having to queue, it also helps outlets avoid mixing up orders.

The number of inquiries received by me&u has increased more than 10-fold compared with last year, the company said.

Premutico said that helping so many businesses get back up and running while being COVID safe with the contactless order and payment system made him feel really proud. 

But how much it costs to introduce the system has not been made public. One outlet that has introduced the system pays 5% of orders received from customers through it to me&u as a commission.

Australia is said to have contained the coronavirus relatively early thanks to measures such as ordering people to stay home unless engaged in essential business and placing a ban on the entry of foreign nationals, which were both imposed in March.

But virus cases are rising again in the southeastern Australian state of Victoria. The neighboring state of New South Wales, where Sydney is located and also in the country's southeast, remains on high alert and has decided to impose new restrictions for pubs and restaurants.

Amid continued uncertainty over the future in terms of the economy and public health, me&u, which has realized both "contactlessness" and "efficiency," is likely to strengthen its presence in Australia.

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