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January 11, 2021 Startups, Technology & Innovation

CT tech startup DineSafe helps prove restaurant cleanliness, safety

This is a screenshot of what DineSafe’s user interface looks like. Chip’s Family Restaurant is among the Connecticut eateries currently using the service to highlight the health and safety measures it has implemented amid the pandemic

Connecticut restaurants have had a tough year as COVID-19 has forced temporary — and permanent — closures and made some customers skittish about eating out.

Now a Connecticut tech startup is developing a new web-based platform that aims to give diners reassurance that the restaurant they’re eating at is following proper health codes and protocols.

DineSafe has six co-founders — who all live or have roots in Connecticut — including CEO Ryan O’Donnell, a Hartford lawyer who also serves as general counsel for the Connecticut Restaurant Association, a lobbying group that has been at the forefront of promoting policies to keep eateries afloat amid the pandemic.

In recent months, about 150 eateries have adopted the platform, O’Donnell said, and the goal is to have 1,000 restaurant users by the end of this year.

O’Donnell said the technology could be a crucial tool in helping keep more restaurants afloat in the months and even years ahead as customers — even post-pandemic — will likely use cleanliness as a key criteria for deciding which restaurants to patronize.

“It’s about making sure that the guest has all the information they need to understand this restaurant is a safe place to eat at,” O’Donnell said. “The long-term goal is to establish DineSafe as the symbol for safety in the restaurant industry.”

The startup has already raised about $100,000 via angel investors, said co-founder Steve Richard, and it’s getting potential interest from major tech players. By the end of this year DineSafe plans to pursue more angel investment, followed by a seed round. Based on the quick growth in users and meetings co-founders have had with prospective investors, Richard said he’s bullish about DineSafe’s prospects in 2021.

Post-pandemic resurgence

DineSafe is an accountability program that tracks whether restaurants are following health and hygiene codes. When a restaurant subscribes to DineSafe it must answer three to five questions related to its compliance with federal, state and local health codes (i.e. are tables spaced properly? Is there hand sanitizer near the entrance?). The platform currently exists online at, but the company plans to release a mobile app sometime this year.

The restaurant then provides DineSafe photos proving it’s following hygiene mandates. After that, it becomes “DineSafe certified,” but must continue using the app and sending photographic evidence to maintain the status.

Thirty restaurants are currently DineSafe certified, O’Donnell said.

“Even well after COVID recedes, guests are going to have a higher awareness and appreciation of safety,” O’Donnell said.

Ryan Kealey agrees. He’s the general manager of Chicago Sam’s in Cromwell, an early DineSafe adopter. Some regular customers who never seemed concerned about health and safety regulations aren’t casual about it anymore, Kealey said, and he doesn’t think that will end with the pandemic.

“I’ve noticed it, people are scared to come out now,” Kealey said. “There are going to be new norms, and people are going to be looking at who’s cleaning? Who’s wiping everything down.”

The startup recently got a boost when Google agreed to make DineSafe certification visible when someone searches for a restaurant, a feature that will go live in the weeks ahead, O’Donnell said.

Getting DineSafe included on already popular websites and apps like Yelp and OpenTable is key to the company’s growth, and establishing credibility with consumers.

Richard, a Torrington native who lives in Washington, D.C., said DineSafe is drawing possible investment interest from other big names in the tech world. Steve Hafner, CEO of OpenTable and Kayak, recently met with DineSafe co-founders and said he’s interested, but needs to see a longer track record before committing resources to the company, Richard said.

The service is free for now, as restaurants in Connecticut and across the nation are struggling under an unprecedented — and for some, fatal — business slowdown (the CRA estimates at least 600 restaurants have permanently closed in the state since the start of the pandemic). But as the market improves, DineSafe will morph into a monthly paid subscriber service, O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell thinks DineSafe could help speed up the restaurant industry’s necessary post-pandemic resurgence, and allow restaurateurs to easily promote adherence to health and safety standards.

“The restaurants are pretty excited,” O’Donnell said of the service. “You’re all doing the right things, let’s show the people all the work you’re putting in.”

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January 11, 2021

What a great idea! I will be using Dinesafe in the future

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