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In the U.S., the restaurant response to COVID-19 has been nuanced and preventative.

Across the United States, restaurants adjust in response to coronavirus

Starbucks, Denny’s, Dunkin' respond to COVID-19 outbreak

While restaurants in the countries with the most cases of coronavirus, like China and Italy, have taken extreme measures like closing restaurants completely, in the U.S., the restaurant response has been more nuanced and preventative. 

The National Restaurant Association has an online resource to help operators and workers mitigate risks. Basic precautions – like hand-washing for at least 20 seconds and cleaning surfaces – have been suggested by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“Contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Other suggestions from the CDC and WHO, like staying home when symptoms are present, are in contrast to the benefits many restaurant workers receive. About 58% of service workers have access to paid sick leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even in places where laws require employees to provide sick leave, the strain on employees who call out sick can overwhelm restaurants that maintain slim margins.

Of course, whether a counter is cleaned or an employee calls in sick is of little consequence if there’s no one eating at the restaurant. 

As we’ve reported, Chinatown restaurants have seen sales decline as much as 70%. The New York Times reported that restaurants in Oregon near where a teacher tested positive for COVID-19 have seen dine-in service decline, but delivery is up. In China, the country the disease was first detected, restaurants saw the same response from consumers. According to the Times, 70% of Beijing restaurants are currently closed. 

Restaurants in the U.S. are so far keeping their doors open, albeit with new policies in place. 

According to a memo reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks is updating its store-level cleaning routine. “We are increasing the frequency of our Starbucks cleanliness procedures and continue to take guidance from the CDC and our local health authorities.”

Managers were instructed to add up to 1% to their forecasted employee hours to handle the cleaning, which was estimated to take about 30 minutes a day. 

Starbucks is also pausing its "for here" personal cup usage in stores. "We will continue to honor the 10-cent discount for anyone who brings in a personal cup or asks for 'for here' ware," the company wrote on its website.Tim Hortons is also pausing its reusable cup program. 

Starbucks has decided to forgo a physical shareholders meeting in favor of a virtual one “due to the emerging public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak.” The brand made this move as many large events, such as conferences, have been canceled or postponed.  

McDonald's has also decided on a virtual meeting event rather than a physical one. The company announced  that the World Wide Convention this year, which was to take place in Orlando, will now be a digital experience.  The event typically brings together franchisees from across the globe.

McDonald's has also enhanced its cleaning proceedures, including increasing the "frequency of cleaning and sanitizing high-touchpoint surfaces in the restaurant like door push plates and handles, kiosks, touch screens, counters, table tents, table tops, and restroom surfaces," according to a release from the company. McDonald's is also asking franchisees to "consider providing Ecolab alcohol-based hand sanitizer to customers and crew in service areas by mounting hand sanitizer dispensers in convenient and easily accessed locations."

Said Chris Kempczinski, CEO of McDonald's, in a statement: “We have and will continue to provide tools and resources for restaurants to enhance our everyday commitment to the highest possible standards of hygiene and cleanliness."

Meanwhile, family-dining chain Denny’s pulled out of the 2020 UBS Global Consumer and Retail Conference, which is to take place later this week in Boston. 

“The decision to cancel was made out of an abundance of caution related to coronavirus concerns,” a news release from the chain said. 

At Dunkin' Brands, executives have created a task-force dedicated to the issue. 

"We are also holding virtual town halls with our employees and franchisees to address concerns and to reinforce good sanitation practices across our franchised system and to remind everyone to be vigilant to help minimize exposure," Dunkin' wrote in a statement to NRN. 

The coronavirus and its impact on restaurants is an evolving story. NRN will update this story as things develop.

Contact Gloria Dawson at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @GloriaDawson


Correction: A previous version of this story stated that 25% of service workers had access to paid sick leave. The number is 58%.

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