Local businesses finding safety innovations during Covid-19

An innovative idea helping Calgary restaurants, bars and cafes keep customers safe and their businesses open during the pandemic is a local solution with global possibilities.

QResponse is a Calgary-based tech company whose QR code system is giving the food and beverage industry the ability to manage customer reservations, virtual waiting lists, online menus, and reduce costs for curbside food pickup and delivery without adding third-party charges. It also offers a quick and easy contact tracing option for customers who simply scan the unique codes with their cellphones.

In a bid to support local businesses, the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area (BIA) has partnered with QResponse and is underwriting the costs for its neighbourhood members to make use of the technology. Some businesses are already seeing success. “The response was overwhelming,” said Jeff Beddoes, managing partner of St. James Corner. Fifty per cent of the pub’s delivery and takeout orders are now coming through customers using the service, he says. “It was embraced by the community here in Victoria Park. People were happy to have that… for people to have ease of access to their spot they would normally go to was unbelievable. Now that they’re more familiar with the system and the app I think people have just jumped on board.”

While following all Government of Alberta guidelines for operating safely during the pandemic, the popular pub has shifted to meet the needs of customers who are more than happy to offer their support by making reservations or ordering their favourite burgers and chicken wings for takeout.

“We’re a local pub that’s trying to serve the community… when the doors were shut, it was a little rough. We weren’t designing our business platform to be for takeout and delivery. QResponse made that easier, it was local and supported by Victoria Park BIA and we introduced it to our guests. We’ve all talked about support local here in Calgary. Don’t make it just talk. Look up these local apps and guests are already there. They’re loving it.”

Operating a business during a pandemic is especially challenging for those in the food and beverage industry. Keeping staff and visitors safe is a priority, and keeping business going is critical. Adding QResponse’s technology to the mix was the answer, and a local one.

The Calgary startup, which was founded by Griffin Smith and Jacky Tai last summer, is available to businesses across Alberta. Smith says the idea offers much needed support to businesses who are grappling with change. “We noticed things were probably going to be a bit different. How can we make things safer for local customers and how do we make is easier on local business?” he said. “We could basically give the opportunity and power back to medium and small business in Calgary to run their own ship, so they wouldn’t be reliant on a bunch of different vendors.”

The QR technology helps restaurants do away with tabletop menus, and increases turnover rate by letting customers queue virtually, even ordering drinks and food in advance as they wait for tables to open up due to reduced seating capacity. Customers no longer have to wait outside in lineups because they are notified by text message when their table is ready, says Tai. “We wanted an experience where the customer could walk to the front of the store and order or do contact tracing just by scanning a QR code.”

As for streamlining takeout orders and curbside pickup, the service helps businesses who struggled to manage extra charges from commissions of third-party delivery platforms. “As rules were coming out, we were pivoting our business to help other businesses. When the time came that restaurants couldn’t have dine in, we created a pickup option for business. We wanted to help businesses with their margins,” said Tai, explaining menu prices don’t have to increase to cover the third-party delivery charges.

Connecting the tech company with one of Calgary’s BIAs is a smart way to support local, says Sonya Sharp, Leader of Business and Local Economy at The City of Calgary.

“I think it’s really important for business owners to remain nimble during the pandemic because there’s so much uncertainty. When you have businesses like restaurants, who are usually using paper or plastic menus, to have an opportunity where people can just use their phones and scan the QR code and say this is what we have to offer here, and adhering to all the rules and regulations the Government of Alberta has put in has in place, I think it’s important for businesses to have the luxury of being able to connect with companies that can provide them with that service.”

The City has created a Business Sector Task Force, which aims to serve as a conduit to the business community by keeping them connected to marketing strategies and encouraging citizens to spend their money supporting local services and shops.

“Calgarians should care about supporting local business because local business is the root of our economy in Calgary. When you support local, you’re supporting your neighbours, your friends and you’re supporting families, which is really important because family builds community. Keep supporting local as best as you can.”