The best inventors often have a knack for turning problems into profits with an innovative, market-shattering product. This especially rings true when it comes to the seemingly mundane problems consumers overlook, or don’t even know exist.
Little did local network engineer Rea Huntley know that the problem she solved last fall would soon become a major topic of discussion among restaurateurs who, in a global pandemic, must inspire confidence about their ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With Huntley’s Lavii locker, an increasing number of food establishments in the D.C. area have taken extra steps to make food pickup more efficient, and keep all takeout orders in a tightly confined space only the customer can access.
“A lot of restaurants have resorted to methods for takeout orders but processes aren’t secure and it leaves [room for] human interaction [with the food] and possibly theft,” Huntley told The Informer as she recounted a 20-minute wait for a takeout order during the summer of 2019 that compelled her to invent the Lavii locker.
The large steel Lavii locker comes with either a thick window or steel covering serving as the door for each of the 10 airtight compartments. Once a restaurant places the order inside the Lavii locker and confirms ready for pickup, the customer will receive a Quick Response (QR) code that opens the locker, allowing them to get their food in less than 10 seconds. In the event the code doesn’t work, the locker also has a built-in touchscreen that customers can use to verify their identity.
In early 2021, Huntley and her colleagues will engage potential investors through a crowdfunding campaign.
“We provide a safer way of picking up food and have been getting a lot of interest from restaurants looking to optimize their pick-up solutions,” said Huntley, who launched the Lavii locker pilot program with James Bagley and Marcus Gunn in August.
“It’s all about us educating the restaurants about how this product can be beneficial to their business during and post-COVID.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 15 million people in the United States. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assesses ordering take-out as low-risk activity, concerns have often surfaced about the changing of hands, and the food’s placement in the open space for long periods of time.
The Lavii locker counts among the restaurant industry’s latest COVID-era innovations, including heat-and-eat dishes, meal kits, and wine pairings with food orders.
While other changes have attracted customers, the Lavii locker has addressed the issue of how to reduce human contact with takeout orders. Amid attempts to meet this goal, restaurants have purchased tamper-proof packaging and adopted “no touch” policies. New restrictions have affected every aspect of the restaurant visit — including the placement of credit card machines.
Because of the high volume of takeout orders, managing foot traffic remains an issue, even with the best of planning. That’s why the Lavii locker has been a gem for the owners of Shark Bar and Seafood House in Waldorf, Maryland.
The restaurant recently highlighted its newest resource on an Instagram post that sparked followers’ curiosity.
“Lavii wrapped the lockers in our vibrant blue color with our signature sharks on it,” said Karie Van Hook, co-owner of Shark Bar and Seafood House. “It’s a really good attraction.”
“We have it in the foyer before you enter our restaurant,” Van Hook continued. “Guests that order online won’t even have to come into the restaurant. They can come into the lobby area, and just put their phone up to the locker and retrieve it. It works really well. We just signed a contract to continue usage.”