Like most Australians, Stevan Premutico hates waiting in line at the bar.
"I've always struggled with the idea that I can get an Uber to my house faster than I can order a beer at the pub, or buy a coffee in a cafe," says the tech entrepreneur. "The process of waiting, ordering and paying is by far the most tedious part of visiting a hospitality venue."
In order to streamline the ordering experience, Premutico launched mobile app Me&u in 2019. Leading hospitality groups such as Rockpool were quick to adopt the technology across their casual dining venues.
Now Premutico, who founded online restaurant booking platform Dimmi (bought by TripAdvisor five years ago), says he has experienced a 1200 per cent increase in inquiries about Me&u "from all types of venues" in the past three weeks.
"Me&u was born with a pretty simple premise whereby customers visit a restaurant, pub or cafe and there's a small beacon sitting on the table," he says.
"They tap their phone on the beacon and a visual representation of the menu appears on their screen. From that moment forward, the table is ordering and paying through the app."
Melbourne-based Colonial Leisure Group uses the technology across 10 of its dining rooms around the country. The company's chief executive, Brett Sergeant, says "it's about the ability to sit and order a beer or a meal without having to get off your arse, quite frankly".
Premutico believes that with coronavirus restrictions easing, hospitality operators are asking themselves how they're going to open their doors again.
"Without question, it's a contactless economy on the other side," he says. "We conducted a survey [of more than 500 Australians] in April and found that 94 per cent of customers said they don't want to touch cash, and 64 per cent said they don't want to touch a menu, even if it's disposable."
Me&u is not the only dining app set to become more common in the next six months due to touchless trends and social distancing rules meaning table service only until further notice. Other players in the contactless payment space include HungryHungry, Liven, Skip and Tayble.
"There's certainly a lot of them on the market," says Justine Baker, chief executive of Sydney's Solotel Group which counts 19 bars and pubs in its portfolio, plus chef Matt Moran's restaurants including Aria and Chiswick.
"With casual dining they can work, but in terms of fine dining, we're not sure. You would have to deliver it in a different way, but there are great examples globally of fabulous wine bars moving to a digital experience. Restaurants in Asia, in particular, have shown you can incorporate the digital experience and high-end dining at the same time."
Premutico says benefits of incorporating contactless ordering technology into the dining space go beyond health and safety requirements.
"What I see here is an evolution in the way front-of-house is managed, leading to fewer waiters for the low–value stuff like taking orders, and more hosts whose job it is to oversee the whole floor.
"The way the dining industry works has long been too manual and labour intensive. Unless we can find ways for technology to increase productivity and efficiency, we're never going to improve the bottom line of restaurants."