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The pandemic has forced restaurants to confront an urgent question: Was technology helping or hurting them?
For Glasserie, a Mediterranean restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y., the answer was both. When restaurants were forced to close for sit-down meals, Glasserie was able to use technology to move sales online and promote itself. But Glasserie’s owner, Sara Conklin, said she was also frustrated by technology providers that moved too slowly and delivery apps that ultimately were more harm than help.
Glasserie has muddled through because of human creativity and hustle that was helped by technology — when it wasn’t a roadblock. The key for Conklin was to lean on technology that compelled diners to come to Glasserie directly, not through an app.
Glasserie dusted off customer email lists, kept coming up with new dishes and started selling online everything from bottles of wine to toilet paper. It was constant improvisation. “There is no book or anything that we’re following,” Conklin said.
Our friends and relatives, parents and teachers, religious institutions, office workers and small businesses like Glasserie have all had to readjust to our pandemic-altered lives mediated by technology. The question now is whether Glasserie — and the rest of us — can harness the skills learned from the darkest times and rebuild even better.
Since Glasserie opened in 2013, almost all of its business was dine-in. Occasionally during slow patches, Glasserie would open to orders on Caviar, a takeout and delivery app.
That changed when New York City restaurants were ordered to close, except for delivery and pickup services, in the middle of March. Conklin said that the restaurant scrambled to use Square, the software it uses to record orders, to put up a bare-bones website to sell takeout meals for the first time and to offer a mini-grocery store with items like bottles of olive oil, onions and disposable latex gloves. Regulation changes allowed Glasserie to also sell bottles of wine, beer and cocktails to go.
Conklin said that the restaurant experimented with more delivery and takeout apps including Seamless, Grubhub and DoorDash. But as other restaurant owners have said, she was disappointed by the fees and the difficulty of getting help using the apps’ service. It took one of the delivery apps more than six weeks to update menu photos and other requested changes from April.
Much of the technology the restaurant is using isn’t exactly cutting edge. Conklin said Glasserie used to send a few message blasts a year to about 23,000 customer email addresses. Now the restaurant is sending three to five emails a week about special offers or the return of favorite dishes like grilled bread. “We drove a lot of people crazy but we also found a lot of our core people,” Conklin said.
Glasserie is also trying to keep things fresh. There’s a special meal each week — recently, rabbit stew with polenta, greens and strawberries and cream. A few weeks ago, Glasserie opened one of its windows for walk-up orders of drinks and bar snacks like baked oysters.
Conklin said it’s been a struggle, but she was happy that Glasserie was able to retain about half the sales it did before it closed its doors to dine-in eating. (In takeout mode, the restaurant is selling a larger percentage of food compared with alcohol, which is generating lower profit margins.) Even better, she said, about 95 percent of sales are coming directly from the restaurant’s website rather than through app companies.
“We wanted to drive as much of the business to ourselves in the hopes that when this is over, we’ll keep that business,” she said.
Tip of the Week
Do you miss your headphone jack?
Brian X. Chen, a consumer technology writer at The New York Times, writes in to help those of us who are annoyed about smartphones ditching the familiar round port to plug in headphones.
Many people who bought smartphones in recent years had to part ways with a beloved feature: the headphone jack. That’s because over the last four years, phone makers like Apple, Motorola and Google opted to omit that familiar headphone plug to make room for other components.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated June 12, 2020
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.
How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.
My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
How do I take my temperature?
Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
A friend who recently bought the new iPhone SE ran into this conundrum and asked: How do I use earphones while charging the phone?
This is definitely one of the biggest pains involved in transitioning to a jack-less phone. Here’s my advice.
There are two main paths you can take:
The first option is to buy a pair of wireless earphones, which connect to your phone via a Bluetooth connection. You can keep listening while your phone’s only port is connected to its charger. Apple’s AirPods are popular, and so are headsets from Bose and Jabra.
The downside is that good wireless earphones are fairly expensive. Plus, many headsets include rechargeable batteries that eventually deplete and can’t be replaced, meaning in a few years you would probably have to pony up for a new pair. This is not ideal in hard times when many people are losing their jobs.
Here’s a second option for people who prefer to keep using their wired earphones or want a less costly approach. You could buy an inexpensive adapter that lets you plug your earphones into your phone’s connection port. An iPhone owner would need a Lightning-to-headphone-jack dongle and Android users would need a USB-C-to-headphone-jack dongle. To charge the phone simultaneously, you can place the phone on a flat wireless charging pad, another relatively cheap accessory.
(Some newer iPhones included earbuds equipped with a Lightning connector, in which case you could skip buying an adapter and buy just the wireless charging pad.)
The downside is that the dongles are annoying to carry and easy to lose.
Neither of these solutions is ideal. I prefer the first option because I like to move around freely without wires. But I definitely will have to pay for this benefit until more headphone makers offer wireless earphones with replaceable batteries.
Before we go …
A whodunit of garbage ideas: My colleague Nicole Perlroth has a wild tale about Americans who spread online the false accusations that a flawed Iowa voting-reporting app was a politically motivated plot. Nicole tries to untangle the mystery, which also sheds light on Americans’ inclination to spread divisive online conspiracies about one another.
Your reminder that technology superpowers are very rich: Pandemic? Economic freeze? Protests about systemic inequalities? None of that stopped Facebook, Apple and other tech giants from splurging on investments to keep pursuing growth as other industries retrench, the Times tech reporter Mike Isaac wrote.
No one consented to this: Go read my Opinion colleagues’ investigation last year into how apps we’ve never heard of purchase smartphone data that track demonstrators in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Then read this Wall Street Journal article about political operatives gathering data by tracking the cellphones of U.S. protesters to send them messages about registering to vote or taking other actions. One voter registration executive told The Journal that this was “deeply spooky yet extremely helpful.”
Hugs to this
The Nashville Public Library made a hip-hop video — with mouse puppets — to promote curbside pickup of books. It is strangely rad.
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