3rd July 2020

How we built a safe drinking application in 24 hours


Julian Hucker

One of the benefits of rapid development is being able to respond to changing events and build prototypes or solve problems, almost as they happen.

So when we were discussing the upcoming pubs and restaurants reopening this weekend, we had a thought: how will they capture customer information in a safe way?

Pubs and restaurants are obliged to keep a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days, to assist the NHS Test and Trace application. The idea being if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak, it’ll be easier to get in touch with people quickly.

Most establishments, including pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers, will go with the low-tech answer: a pen and notepad.

I’m all for simplicity, but there’s some flaws here. There’s protecting personal data on the privacy and security side, and the obvious contamination risk on the health side.

So we decided to build a pilot solution to solve this problem with a combination of Twilio’s Channel APIs.

We were looking for a lightweight solution requiring no complicated setup for the venue, as well as no installation required for customers.

We are testing it at The Fontmell in Dorset, which is reopening this weekend. The Fontmell is a lovely gastro pub and hotel, managed by Ben Moxham.

Here’s how it works.

Customers drinking at The Fontmell text “I want a drink!” to a number to register their attendance and provide their name. And if they don’t have a mobile connection, they can access a simple chatbot via The Fontmell’s free WiFi.

The Fontmell captures that information and stores it securely, deleting the data after 21 days.

Customers receive a “Safe 2 Serve” badge, which they can show to the waiter or waitress when they are ready to eat or drink.


How we did it

We built and tested the app in just over 24 hours, using the Twilio Conversations API. This enabled us to easily implement the same workflow across both SMS and Web Chat, to provide a consistent experience to both customer and owner.

Using Twilio Studio, inbound messages from either SMS or Web Chat are received and screened to validate their input. An automated response is then sent to confirmed customers, including a “Safe to Serve” badge which is then shown to the bar staff to resume service.

The service is running as a pilot at The Fontmell, but we’re excited to see whether there’s any further pick-up and if the service could be further enhanced in future, for example to book ahead.

In the rapidly changing world we find ourselves in at the moment, it’s an approach we’ll be taking a great deal.

Protecting staff and customers alike

“I love the ingenuity from the Zing team. It solves a small but important problem at a time when we’ve already got a lot on our plate. Our staff are really looking forward to serving customers again and this helps keep everyone safe and avoid an admin headache on our side too. That’s something everyone can drink to!”

Ben Moxham

We’re pleased to get this up and running for Ben and the team at the Fontmell. If you’re interested in this application or our agile methodology, visit our Safe 2 Serve page.

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