COVID-19 has affected all of us, including many small businesses. Due to COVID-19 induced restaurant closures across NYC, many restaurants are facing difficulties. And when the economy reopens, measures like social distancing will be even more important in limiting a second wave of infections. China, which is now reopening, continues to social distance as much as possible while balancing economic recovery. Similarly, when NYC restaurants reopen, we must integrate as much social distancing as possible.

I started thinking about how I can make a difference as our economy and restaurants open up, and came up with this idea.

What it does

My idea is to create online menus that customers could access through their phones.

My plan is to use acrylic menu holders that are often seen in restaurants advertising specials, and instead, insert in it a page with a unique QR code on it. When a customer scans the code, it will lead to my website and then reroute to that restaurant’s digital menu. I am having the QR code link to my page, and then the menu because in the case that the web address changes, the QR code won’t need to be replaced. This task is made easier considering most restaurants have an online presence. Online menus will reduce the spread of germs through menus, provide patrons with faster access to menus, and reduce some contact between waiters and patrons. I would like to pilot this project in a small selection of restaurants, in order to get feedback, and with the aim of providing it at minimum or no cost.

How I built it

I used the design software Canva for the flyer (example of flyer attached) and generated/designed the QR code with QR CodeMonkey. If funded, I would purchase many acrylic menu holders to hold the printed flyer, and would also print the flyers out. These menu holders filled with the QR code flyer would be placed at tables at the restaurant, ready for use.

Challenges I ran into

One challenge is that many restaurant owners are not well informed on technological solutions to COVID-19, and often face difficulties due to this. Additionally, many restaurants are still closed and will be for the foreseeable future. While this does provide us with a grace period for implementation, it may also mean that it will take longer to find restaurants willing to implement this. And with the other stresses of being a small business owner at this unique moment, many may feel too overwhelmed to introduce new solutions.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

I'm proud of quickly conceiving and creating a solution to address the problem of factoring health concerns while balancing economic recovery. I hope that seemingly small solutions like this will truly latten the curve, and inspire more projects like this.

What I learned

From this experience, I learned how to develop a solution to a daunting problem like restaurant closures because of COVID-19. This is a great opportunity to learn about communicating with small businesses and helping them set up this simple technology solution. I also learned that it is important to test out the system via a pilot program and then use feedback from that to guide subsequent iterations.

What's next for Project ComeBack

Each restaurant costs roughly $30 to onboard. $20 of this comes from the acrylic stands. Another $10 comes from the color printing and monthly upkeep of the site. I am doing the design pro bono. With the award money, we should be able to do 7 or 8 restaurants, because after the first few, using bulk materials, we can lower the cost. This would be our pilot, and once found replicable and successful can be used to get other funding, donations, and expand the program.

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