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Dunkin’ Opens First Contact-Free Restaurant in Boston

Contact-free dining and delivery options spiked in popularity during COVID-19 lockdown

Coffee-chain Dunkin’ opened a ‘digital-only’ restaurant in Boston on Beacon Street.

The store offers contactless pick-up for customers, who have the option of ordering at a kiosk or via the company’s app. There is no dining space at the new store. 

“The digital-only location offers Dunkin’s full menu of quality products fans know and love, and the traditional order counter is replaced with two in-store digital kiosks where guests will be able to place a customized order and pay for it using cash, credit card, or a DD gift card,” Dunkin’ said in a statement.

The company says that the lack of employee interaction will “create an efficient, more convenient, and frictionless experience,” per CBS Boston.

The expansion of contactless restaurant experiences is evidence of the COVID-19 pandemic’s lasting impact on the American lifestyle. 

Digital signage Keyser says on its website that the “technology necessary for these digital-only restaurants” could include “self-service kiosks, outdoor menu boards, and reader boards.”

The QR, which has existed since 1994, found a new role in restaurants of all sizes amid the pandemic. To reduce the number of surfaces that could potentially be cross-contaminated, restaurants began offering their menus digitally.

Diners can quickly scan a QR code placed on a counter or tabletop to view digital menus,” says Bentobox. “QR codes are a quick, safe and efficient technology that restaurants can use to streamline the dining experience.”

As restaurants adjusted to new health protocols and social distancing requirements, contact-free food pick-up and delivery became standard. Fans of this growing practice say this makes food more accessible to those who are limiting their contact with other people.  Some say kiosks reduce the burden on already understaffed restaurants while simultaneously reducing human error.

A study by Datassential found that 82% of customers said that contactless payments would make them feel safe dining in, and 81% said the same about contactless ordering options.

Contactless dining is unique in that it flips this idea of customer service on its head. Instead of service with a smile, contactless dining involves helping diners view your menu, order, and pay for their meal, all with very limited face-to-face interaction. In other words, it’s dining gone digital,” notes TouchBistro.

Dunkin’ is not the first chain to open a location designed for this new style of customer service.

In November of 2020, Chipotle opened its first digital-only location in Highland Falls, NY.

“The new prototype will allow Chipotle to enter more urban areas that wouldn’t support a full-size restaurant and allows for flexibility with future locations,” the company said in a statement. “Orders can be picked up from a lobby that is designed to include all of the sounds, smells and kitchen views of a traditional Chipotle restaurant.”

Taco Bell opened its first fully digital location in Times Square in April of 2021. The company had spent years attempting to enter urban markets across the country. In addition to the kiosk-run location, there are 60 Taco Bell restaurants and 20-plus Cantinas which have open kitchens and alcoholic drinks across New York City.

Most of the companies, including Dunkin’, report there will be some staff on-site to assist when stores are busy and to ensure the accuracy of every order. In fact, the coffee chain says its digital location will have as many staff members as its other franchise locations. 

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