Restaurants worldwide are struggling in the coronavirus era. No cloths, no centerpieces, and limited server interaction with guests. One Tel Aviv noodle chain has even changed its serving style. Born of need, the pandemic-friendly plan is evidence of human creativity—and a reminder that everything old is new again.
Automat cafeterias once flourished in cities around the world. The first appeared in Germany in 1895. Would-be diners placed a coin into a slot and turned a knob. A small glass door opened, and patrons plucked the selected sandwich, salad, or soda.
But as the price of fast food rose, people couldn’t pay with coins. They needed a real, live worker to take checks and credit cards and to make change from bigger bills. Automats slowly disappeared.
Because of the coronavirus, meals sans human contact are again gaining popularity. The virus appears to be spread mainly through droplets expelled when people breathe, speak, or laugh. Traditional restaurants pose a significant risk because customers sit in close quarters and remove masks to eat and drink. Even takeout often involves close interaction with restaurant employees.
Globally, coronavirus lockdowns have forced many small businesses and restaurants to shut their doors. In March, Israel’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to over 25 percent. Recovery has been slow.
Now a Tel Aviv branch of Go Noodles, an Asian noodle bar, is taking a cue from Ecclesiastes 1:9: “There is nothing new under the Sun”! The restaurant is offering an experience similar to the long-ago automat—with updated technology.
Go Noodles customers order via a phone app or on touchscreen monitors at the store. When their food is ready, patrons get a text message with a code. The code unlocks a glass-paned locker.
There are no tables, no servers, and little contamination risk. Customers can pick up their takeout orders without coming within six feet of any restaurant employee.
“I came up with this concept a year ago, with no connection to the coronavirus, from a business and financial need,” says Shmulik Gal, the restaurant manager. “The coronavirus broke out a few months ago, and this thing gained major significance.”
Gal’s idea for his Asian noodle bar was intended to cut costs. But with no end in sight for the pandemic, he believes its approach to dining should be popular.
“People are looking for less contact with others, less intermingling, less touching,” Gal says. “I think this thing has a lot of strength, and people will embrace it.”
That could open new doors for dining.