Taco Bell, a division of Yum Brands, is expanding COVID-19 safety protections at restaurants including requiring employee temperature checks, using a tray to pass sealed food to customers in cars, adding contactless credit card payment at the drive-thru and providing employees masks as supplies become available.
The Irvine, Calif.-based quick-service chain joins a handful of national brands that have enhanced safety protocols recently as shelter in place orders have been extended through the end of April.
Last week, McDonald's said managers will ask employees a series of health-related questions designed to ensure employees are healthy before serving customers. McDonald’s is not performing temperature checks, making Taco Bell one of the few restaurant brands performing this kind of procedure. Walmart recently began taking employee temperatures.
Taco Bell employees will be sent home if they have a temperature of 100.4 or above.
In late March, Restaurant Brands International said it would be sending 15,000 infrared thermometers to all Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes restaurants.
Mike Grams, global chief operating officer at Taco Bell, said Yum’s sister brands are in the process, as well, of rolling out similiar safety procedures including temperature checks.
Other steps Taco Bell is taking to protect employees and guests include providing employees non-medical-grade masks or face coverings wherever it is required by local authorities including several counties in Southern California.
The company will also require all employees to wear gloves and is changing the way customers make payments to ensure transactions are contactless.
When the crisis first started, cashiers were not wearing gloves.
Cashiers are required to change gloves in the event they are needed to handle food. But Grams said those situations shouldn’t happen too often as staffing is set up so that cashiers are only working the register.
Eventually, when the supply chain can handle it, Grams said he envisions color-coding gloves so it is clear who is handling food versus other jobs.
To maintain social distancing and eliminate contact between cashiers and drive-thru customers, food will be passed to the customer using a tray. The customer will receive the food in a sealed package, along with an individual towelette for sanitizing.
Customers will also be swiping their own credit cards to prevent cashiers from handling their cards. Grams said cashiers will provide customers a hand-held style machine for processing payments.
Grams said these procedures have escalated based on new federal health suggestions including last week’s suggestion that non-medical grade masks can be worn in public spaces where social distancing is difficult.
But, Grams said most of the changes were made after receiving feedback from employees. Many have already been showing up to work wearing their own homemade face coverings.
“One of the things we’ve learned in this crisis is there’s a huge role for Taco Bell to play in this process. To stop the spread, and make sure it never comes back,” he said.
The company also plans to install hand sanitizer stations in dining rooms. Those will remain in restaurants when units are permitted to reopen for dine-in customers.
Grams said other safety procedures will likely stick around in a post-COVID-19 world.
He can’t say with certainty which procedures will remain, but it will likely be contactless procedures such as passing food with trays, glove wearing and customer self-swiping of credit cards.
Serving food in sealed packages will likely stay as it provides customers with comfort, he added.
“I can’t predict the future [but] those are all things that make people feel better,” Gram said.
A majority of Taco Bell’s 7,000 restaurant remain open for to-go services. Consumers will start seeing these changes roll out over the next two to three weeks.
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