Service Design Network
Author - Service Design Network

What if just one person in a restaurant has COVID19? It spreads like wildfire.

Service Design Award 2020/21
Student Winner: Business Innovation in the Private Sector

Low Touch: The Future of Dining Out - by Marie Salova

Category: Student

Client: LANA Asian Street Food

University: National College of Art & Design

Location: Ireland


This project focuses on the future of dining out. COVID19 has pushed us all towards a Low Touch Economy; doing what we used to do but with less physical contact or a low touch version of our day to day interactions.

I looked at how restaurants might redesign their business model and customer experience with a real focus on the services, technology and processes needed to fit the changing behaviours of their customers. There was one simple question, what does the future hold for restaurant owners, their restaurants, staff and customers?

Just imagine losing 80% of your restaurant's monthly turnover in the space of a couple of weeks. Imagine not knowing when or if business would pick up and the real worry, that my restaurant may never open again. This project began at the height of the pandemic in Ireland; the clients restaurants could not open for sit down service since their initial full closure until four weeks into this twelve project, they would close some branches again in the final days of this project and then the entire chain in the weeks that followed.

The objective of this project was to help our client safely reopen their restaurant in the current climate by redesigning their dine-in experience across the chain whilst creating an enjoyable and safe dining experience for their customers. In order to call the project a success we also needed a financially viable business model and a strong, dynamic staff experience to complement a new improved customer experience. The focus of this project was to develop a solution that could be tested and implemented within the current pandemic restrictions and without having an adverse effect on the already hard hit businesses operations.

We developed the future of dining out in a post pandemic society. We created Low Touch Dining; a new approach to dining out that utilises current consumer behaviours and capitalizes on them to create an intuitive and safe onsite dining experience. We do this by allowing customers to place their order, request staff, make payments and access their favorite free treats all from their smartphone.

The safety of staff and customers is paramount, so we designed this solution to minimise staff and customer interactions by digitising ~70% of the customer experience which not only slows the spread of the virus but also created a unique and enjoyable dining experience.

  1. Reduced direct contact time with staff (by ~85%)
  2. Improved table turnaround time ~10%
Project Timeline
Project Timeline

Design Process

RESEARCH DURING LOCKDOWN: Initially, in order to understand the space I would be working in I began by mapping the restaurant experience in terms of financial, material and information flows to help identify the key actors using an ecosystem map. I then mapped who, when, what, where and how we come into contact when dining out.

With all these people, places and things that we come into contact with, quickly it became obvious why restaurants were closed down to help stop the spread of COVID19. A diner touches on average 28 different things when dining out, not including their own belongings, think of the potential for the virus to spread!

During lockdown I interviewed many restaurant owners, managers, floor staff, kitchen staff, critics and customers from across Ireland and Europe on Zoom or over the phone. I prioritised my interviews based on an adapted version of a stakeholder map. I also spent a lot of time keeping tabs on the situation through social media, it gave me the opportunity to get immediate and often raw responses to the situation as it developed. Many restaurant owners complained that the guidelines put all the responsibility on them and none on the customer; but when you are sitting at the table, there is little you can do to stop the spread as a customer. Your responsibility as a diner is for your own hygiene and to ensure you don't go out when showing symptoms or as a suspected close contact. As you sit there as a customer you have very little control over what's going on around you in a restaurant, you put your health and safety in their hands.

From there I created a causal loop diagram to highlight the impact the various elements within a restaurant have on each other to ensure I truly understood the systems at play. We know from this that a good experience now starts with COVID19 compliance.

COVDI19 compliance sounds like a boring topic but it is fundamental to any restaurant's future, not just my clients.

As the restaurants and other customers adhere to the guidelines, customers feel safe. When they feel safe you have more customers, which means more customers and you're making more money. But the better we adhere to guidelines and the safer people feel; the more relaxed they get, with relaxation also comes complacency, which in turn reduces adherence to guidelines, which makes people feel less safe and less likely to eat out.

It is a self reinforcing loop that is going to be a big challenge for restaurants now and into the future.

Ecosystem Mapping
Ecosystem Mapping
Casual Loop Diagram
Casual Loop Diagram

SYNTHESIS & ADDITIONAL RESEARCH: I created a Digital Research Wall and mapped data points from the numerous interviews and layered it with secondary research and customer survey results to get a holistic view of the situation. It became my point of reference for the remainder of the project. It was live, interactive, accessible and invaluable.

With key themes and insights identified, I focused on the clients' restaurants. I mapped the pre COVID19 dining experience as well as how their restaurants might need to adapt with the help of their staff. These mappings were iterated upon as guidance changed and verified through Service Safaris once restrictions eased.

I mapped each stage of the customer journey to its corresponding pain points (both existing and predicted) and then to their root causes which were mapped to solution space or areas for potential interventions using a Sankey Diagram. Prior to idea generation I created a matrix with the design challenge in mind to give me a clear overview of what I know so far ahead of remote brainstorming sessions with staff and customers.

I also used this as an opportunity to re-define the design challenge; How might we future proof the business model while creating a customer experience that delights ?

What can we do in:

  • 3 weeks (dealing with the current crisis)
  • 3 months (dealing with a potential second wave)
  • 3 years (using the crisis as an opportunity for business innovation)

How might we help our clients adapt their business to thrive not just survive?

Digital Research Wall
Digital Research Wall
Sankey Diagram
Sankey Diagram


We know that a good dining experience starts with COVID19 compliance, so I looked at all the ideas and mapped out three concepts based on the updated design challenge and the guiding principles outlined with the help of management.


Three years was too far into the future for the client at this stage of the crisis, but the idea of Low Touch Dining really resonated with them. So as things usually go, they wanted to see something from each concept going forward. We narrowed the focus to the three month time frame.

CORE CONCEPT: After some further brainstorming, sketching and prototyping we came up with a concept that was ready for testing onsite. Low Touch Dining is a new approach to dining out that utilises current consumer behaviours during Covid and capitalizes on them to create an intuitive and safe onsite dining experience. It allows customers to order, request staff, pay and access their special treat all from their smartphone.

Low Touch Dining cuts out much of the direct contact with staff and other items by replacing them with the customers own phone.

As COVID19 spreads through touch, the less we interact with things and each other, we lower our risk, therefore Low Touch Dining helps keep both staff and customers safe while providing an enjoyable dining experience.

PROTOTYPE LOOP: Having developed the digital platform and a few other touchpoints we were ready to orchestrate the experience onsite in order to validate our core hypothesis. Could we...

  1. Create a safe & enjoyable experience using a digital platform?
  2. Reduce the number of things customers touch?
  3. Reduce direct contact time with staff?
  4. Improve table turnaround time?
  5. Comply with current (and future) government guidance?

We conducted three experiments with different sets of diners iterating the various touch points between each  experiment but the core concept always remained the same. Having validated our core hypothesis early on we had the confidence to continue with the onsite experiments during a pandemic. We iterated the concept two more times before landing on a concept that had the potential to satisfy all our success criteria set out for this project.

We gathered a lot of customer feedback and Low Touch Dining makes the new normal actually feel normal and for customers it is a fun and exciting new experience.

Having validated that Low Touch Dining could replace the traditional model in many scenarios, I mapped out the key stages of the customer journey and did some scenario planning around different customer types when finalising the service.


This concept has not launched yet but we have given our clients the confidence to try something new during a pandemic! They aim to implement Low Touch Dining in early 2021. COVID19 might be forcing us to change the way we live but we can create and control the way we approach this new normal.

We provided our client with a tested service solution that is technically feasible and easily scalable to all 15 stores by their digital partners.

An Implementation plan was drafted detailing how the solution can be piloted in its current MVP form while it is being integrated into the existing platform. We mapped how Low Touch Dining would be rolled out and what needs to be done to ensure their next restaurant opens with Low Touch Dining as a standard..

We utilised existing resources and relationships and created an end-to-end service that our client would have full control over. It doesn’t cost them the standard external commission per order when things are already tight.

The handover also included the digital platform developed for testing and all other marketing material generated for the purposes of this project. I
The future of Dining is Low Touch but it may take some time to roll out; we created a promotional video to get customers excited about Low Touch Dining .


Although this concept has not been brought to the market yet. We know customers are happy and eager to try Low Touch Dining and have reduced the risk for customers, staff, management and ownership by creating a Low Touch Dining experience.

The the impact of the concept on the business and staff:

  1. Reduced direct contact time with staff by ~85% - This was huge. The staff spent less time at tables, less time with customers and only visited when serving meals or cleaning up when customers were finished.
  2. Reduce overheads on staffing - Due to the reduction in staff needed to manage tables and handle payments we were able to showcase a potential reduction in staffing costs of 25-40% when using our solution.
  3. Reduced pressure on floor staff, requiring less staff per table but also allowing them time to adhere appropriately to all the new protocols and producers in place due to COVID19.
  4. Improved table turnaround time ~10% meaning they can have more tables, and make more money. Helping build back some of the lost revenue due to reduced tables for social distancing.
  5. Reducing the number of things customers touch , slowing the spread of the virus
  6. Ensuring compliance with changing government guidance and assisting with implementation on the ground.

The impact of the concept has been assessed in detail for the customer experience, the staff, the business and on society as a whole under the economical, ecological, social and psychological impacts. .

We are setting up our clients restaurant chain to operate and thrive within the Low Touch Economy of 2021 and build their own ‘new normal’ by creating a safe & enjoyable experience using a digital platform.

Customer Feedback
Customer Feedback


This project focuses on the future of dining out, not just the COVID19 future. We aimed to retain the value of the experience our clients offer their customers while maintaining or even improving turnover during though and beyond the pandemic.

Low Touch Dining is the future of dining out, COVID19 has pushed towards this, but this concept will outlive COVID19
and become the new normal!

This solution is going to be implemented by ownership in early 2021 as the managers and staff involved in this project have highlighted the real need for this solution, especially as we are seeing the second wave of COVID19 rippling across Europe.

What I am most excited about here is the possibilities that Low Touch Dining opens up and creates for the future of dining out. I suppose we’ll really only know this when our Low Touch Dining experience gets implemented in early 2021. The possibilities are endless and the future is low touch!

Wider Impact Map
Wider Impact Map

Related Community Knowledge

Service Design Award Transforming the US Health System: A toolkit for designing a new era of Alzheimer’s care

Transforming the US Health System: A toolkit for designing a new era of Alzheimer’s care

Service Design Award 2023 - Professional Commercial Finalist

Continue reading
Service Design Award Nemo: The Finnish Maritime Single Window

Nemo: The Finnish Maritime Single Window

Service Design Award 2023 - Winner, Best Commercial Project

Continue reading
Service Design Award Inspiring Action for Teacher Retention from the Inside Out

Inspiring Action for Teacher Retention from the Inside Out

Service Design Award 2023 - Professional Commercial Finalist

Continue reading
Service Design Award Fast Stream: A new post-pandemic digital service

Fast Stream: A new post-pandemic digital service

Service Design Award 2023 - Professional Commercial Finalist

Continue reading