With coronavirus spreading rapidly, restaurants are scrambling to adjust operations as millions of consumers self-quarantine and begin a new normal of social distancing.
The restaurant industry, from independents to chains, have tapped their deep databases to reach out to consumers via social media and email to notify them of steps they are taking to safeguard customers and employees.
Messages go beyond relaying information about vigilant cleaning standards. Restaurants are also going cashless, closing temporarily, ending self serve options and spacing out tables to maintain social distancing.
Here’s what you need to know:
Delivery and carryout surge?
The most unprecedented announcement came early Friday when Grubhub said it would suspend commissions for independent restaurants - a move spurred by projections of a delivery surge.
Relief from hefty commissions is good timing for operators such as those at indie concept Green Tomato Grill in Southern California who are shifting their attention to beefing up their off-premise channels.
The three-unit fast-casual restaurant, which specializes in rice bowls that cater to various dietary lifestyles, has expanded its delivery options for consumers.
“We are partnering with additional delivery partners to ensure those who wish to stay home can still enjoy a delish and nutritious meal from Green Tomato Grill. You can now order from Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub,” the company told consumers.
Anticipating a spike in carryout orders, the brand also plans to announce a curbside pickup option in the coming weeks.
Manny’s Deli in Chicago said it is adding curbside pickup, as well.
Full-service restaurant and tavern Blackbarn in New York City has added “neighborhood delivery through Seamless/Grubhub,” the company told diners in an email. The restaurant, whose menu features seasonally focused upscale dishes, is owned by John Doherty, the former executive chef at The Waldorf Astoria hotel.
In Newport Beach, Calif., critically acclaimed French restaurant, Marche Moderne, is offering carryout for some of the fine dining restaurant's most popular dishes. On Saturday, March 14, Chef Florent Marneau's bistro, regarded as the best French restaurant in Southern California, will offer curbside pick up of signature dishes such as our Endive Salade, Coq Au Vin and Braised Short Ribs.
All orders must be called in by 2 p.m. for same day pickup between 3 p.m and 5 p.m daily. Marneau said the restaurant had "never" offfered carryout service before, but he wanted to accommodate guests who are social distancing. As for the restaurant, so far he has not seen a slowdown in bookings.
Panera Bread said restaurants are preppared to modify operations by "when needed to be able to continue to serve you. At times, this may mean we limit our service to Rapid Pick-Up, Delivery or Drive-Thru only," the chain said in a letter distributed Friday afternoon. The brand, which has its own fleet of drivers, is also implementing contactless delivery.
Late Friday, Pizza Hut's U.S. President, Kevin Hochman said: "We’re preparing our team of 42,000 Pizza Hut-dedicated drivers for an increased demand in online ordering and delivery service."
Johns Creek, Ga.-based Castellucci Hospitality Group, which operates a string of restaurants in the greater Atlanta region, is going cashless and reconfiguring tables at its restaurants. Its portfolio includes Sugo Kitchen, The Iberian Pig, Bar Mercado, Cooks & Soldiers, Double Zero, and Recess.
In an Instagram post, the company said it is temporarily suspending cash transactions, increasing the spacing between tables and barstools and expanding access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizers for guests and employees.
“Since we have a high volume of customer interactions every day we are taking action to keep everyone safe,” the company wrote. “We cannot predict the potential impact of the virus, but we can do our part to minimize its spread.”
Other restaurants accommodating social distancing by moving tables include Noble Fin in Peachtree Corners, Ga.
The state of New York is requiring venues to reduce capacity by 50% or to be closed down, which may lead operators to move tables. Late Friday (Eastern time), Union Square Hospitality Group announced it would temporarily close all of its restaurants.
Dining room disruptions
In restaurants, consumers have grown accustomed to helping themselves to everything from plastic utensils to soda refills.
Many chains are now removing these self-serve options to reduce the risk of community spread. Dining rooms could be impacted in other ways as some quick service chains are preparing to serve customers only through drive thru lanes like Taco Bell and Del Taco.
Here’s what some restaurants and chains are telling customers:
- Lake Forest, Calif.-based Del Taco said its restaurants have removed utensils and condiments from dining rooms. Diners can get supplies at the counter when picking up their order. Cashiers are also wearing gloves, something they did not do before.
- Chipotle Mexican Grill is offering free delivery through the end of March, and has changed its to-go packaging to prevent tampering. Free delivery starts Sunday, March 15 through the brand's digital channels.
- Starbucks said it would consider closing dining rooms and only serving customers through its drive-thru locations. The Seattle-based chain, which promotes its cafes as a “third place” hangout, said it was looking into limiting seating, as well. Condiments such as sugar and creamer are no longer self serve.
- Taco Bell said it is preparing to close dining rooms if necessary. Late Friday, CEO Mark King sent an email blast to fans: "As regions of the U.S. begin to mandate public closures and self-quarantine, we are equipping our restaurants to serve our guests via drive-thru and delivery only, where necessary. Should we need to temporarily close our dining rooms, we would be limiting millions of guest interactions and further enabling social distancing."
- El Pollo Loco has temporarily closed its self-serve salsa bar. Salsas available upon request at the counter, where cashiers are wearing gloves.
- Subway is temporarily removing dine-in baskets and serving trays. It’s also amending its beverage refill policy by offering consumers a new cup for refills.
- At Heritage Eats, a fast-casual concept with two Bay Area locations, employees are wiping down door handles, tables and eating surfaces with sanitizer solution throughout the day. However, each restaurant will sanitize a consumer’s table if they make a special request before they sit down to dine; consumers can also ask a staff member to change their gloves before being served.
- Fast-casual vegan chain By Chloe said all napkins, condiments and utensils will not be available for self-serve. They will be provided in packaged to-go bags, upon request.
- Burger chain Smashburger said it is replacing silverware and tumblers with single-use flatware and paper cups across all locations.
- Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar locations are removing items from the dining tables such as condiments, beverage playbooks and silverware. "You’ll still be able
to access all of these items courtesy of your server," the company said. Restaurants are also adding tamper proof stickers to all carryout and delivery orders to ensure contamination does not occur.
- Panda Express is giving customers the option to request wrapped utensils.
Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven
Editor's note: This story will be updated regularly as we learn of new consumer-facing adjustments being made at restaurants.