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During the call, President Trump thanked restaurant chains for providing drive-thru, carryout and delivery services. (File photo)

President Trump calls meeting with top restaurant chain leaders to discuss COVID-19 response

CEOs and presidents of Domino’s, Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Wendy's join a call as industry faces crippling losses tied to temporary closures and reduced services

President Trump called top U.S. restaurant chain leaders Tuesday to discuss the industry’s response to COVID-19 and thanked them for playing a crucial role in stemming the spread of coronavirus by pivoting to off-premise operations.

The White House briefing with Trump included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as well as Domino’s CEO Richard Allison and Wendy’s President and CEO Todd Penegor.

David Gibbs, CEO of the world’s largest quick-service company Yum Brands, was also on the call. The Louisville, Ky.-based company owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC.

"It was a very productive meeting and David [Gibbs] was encouraged by how much the discussion this morning aligns with Yum! Brands’ and the restaurant industry’s interest in continuing to support delivery, carryout and drive-through [sic], which is an important way to make food available safely and with low contact in a social distancing environment,” Yum said in a statement sent to Nation’s Restaurant News.

Yum said it is “monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely, supporting our franchisees, thinking ahead and making sure we have the best plans in place to protect our people and customers as their health and safety is our number one priority.”

During the brief call, Trump showed support for the restaurant industry for not only feeding people but in also keeping people employed during the COVID-19 crisis. The president also thanked chains who are providing drive-thru, carryout and delivery services.

As reported by NRN, thousands of limited-service restaurants across the U.S. are moving to a to-go model of service. That includes serving customers through carryout, delivery and drive-thru lanes. Most of the top restaurants chains have closed dining rooms including McDonald’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ and Wendy’s, and casual-dining restaurants are also emphasizing delivery and carryout.

In a statement about the Trump briefing, Wendy’s said: “We shared our commitment to supporting public health and safety while continuing to ensure essential access to food. We are grateful that the White House sought our collective industry perspective.”

According to CNBC, leaders of the following brands were also in attendance: Chick-fil-A, Subway, Restaurant Brands International (parent of Burger King and Popeyes), Bloomin’ Brands, McDonald’s, Raising Cane’s, Darden Restaurants and Papa John’s.

Representatives from the International Franchise Association and the National Retail Federation were also on the call. A spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association would not comment when asked if the organization was invited to the briefing.

It is unclear if the administration talked to restaurant leaders about stimulus help to assist the industry and employees, who face crippling revenue and wage losses tied to the coronavirus crisis. Many restaurants are temporarily closing or reducing hours. 

In a regulatory filing today, McDonald's Corp. said it is "working with franchisees around the world in order to evaluate operational feasibility and support financial liquidity" including rent deferrals. "We are also working closely with suppliers on contingency planning for continuous supply," according to the SEC filing.

An NRA spokeswoman said the group is working on a statement to address impacts to the industry.

The New York City Hospitality Alliance has been the most vocal about asking for government assistance to restaurants and workers. "Due to this mandated closure, restaurants and bars will no longer be able pay their employees, including paid sick leave for some, during this emergency once they are forced to close. Employees must be taken care of and it is now up to government to provide for them when small businesses cannot. Government also must immediately cap all third-party restaurant delivery fees at no more than 10%.”

While off-premise channels are growing for the industry, it still represents about 50% of total restaurant sales, or $218 billion, according to market research firm The NPD Group. 

“Off-premise drove industry spending growth in the past year at +4,” the firm said. “Widespread closures would likely result in a volume decline even with off-premise sales still available; however, in the long run this will accelerate the shift to off premise.”

In a 2020 report, the National Restaurant Association said off-premise orders make up nearly 60% of foodservice occasions. However, those results also include freshly prepared items taken off-premise at grocery and convenience stores.

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

Updated 3/18: This story was edited to clarify which organization provided the off-premise data.

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