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Looking back on 2020’s Tech Tracker columns from Nation’s Restaurant News

Coronavirus pandemic provided opportunity for chains to innovate with ghost kitchens, contactless tech and more

In a year that brought a lot of bad news for restaurants, there were also a lot of chances to innovate with technology, from ghost kitchens to artificial intelligence. Nation’s Restaurant News followed every move with its regular Tech Tracker column.

Ghost kitchens were a trend even before the coronavirus pandemic, with Saladworks debuting its first in January in Chicago. In February and March, McDonald’s, Dunkin’, Panda Express and Inspire Brands all made delivery and off-premise moves, which became a necessity not long after.

As restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms, new trends emerged, such as technology companies providing relief for restaurants. Instagram and ChowNow launched free online ordering for restaurants in April, and OpenTable and Resy offered reservation fee relief as restaurants reopened with limited seating in May.

By June, restaurants had turned their technology efforts to safety, utilizing UV light and “cold fog” devices to slow the spread while keeping their dining rooms open. Restaurants also emphasized contactless technology, with QR codes making an unexpected comeback for everything from Coca-Cola Freestyle machines to menus for tableside digital ordering.

The year also saw big moves from third-party delivery companies, with Uber Eats launching the first ever advertising listing for restaurants and adding contactless ordering and payment for dine-in customers. By December, Tech Tracker had come full circle, with Aloha Poke announcing its first ghost kitchen with Reef Kitchens.

Click through the gallery to read 2020’s Tech Tracker columns.

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