The million-dollar question right now in the restaurant industry is: What will restaurants look like when they reopen under the government’s phased-in approach?
The future is blurry but this much we know: Restaurant dining rooms will operate at a limited capacity as jurisdictions are likely to enforce social distancing for months. Plus, diners might not be ready for a sit-down experience even at a quick-service restaurant.
That’s why restaurants like The Habit Burger Grill are preparing to keep certain COVID-19 off-premise strategies such as curbside pickup to keep revenue flowing while ensuring the safety of guests and employees.
“The consumer, as they come back, we will keep what their needs and wants are at the forefront of all the decisions that we make,” CEO Russ Bendel told Nation’s Restaurant News during an exclusive Zoom video chat.
And that new normal will certainly “be different than it was two months ago,” he added.
The Irvine, Calif.-based charburger chain, acquired by Yum Brands during the pandemic, had a few things going for it when it entered the crisis: 53 of its 271 restaurants have drive-thru locations.
None offered curbside pickup before the pandemic.
But over the last few weeks, Bendel said the company has been experimenting with new ways to offer contactless ordering including adding pop-up drive-thru lanes at 39 restaurants and curbside pickup at a dozen locations. Both involve ordering food through the brand’s digital channels or through an employee working at a “makeshift” drive thru set up in a parking lot.
In the curbside experiment, consumers order ahead through the brand’s app. After parking, they then have their order delivered to their car or trunk without exchanging any money with an employee.
Bendel said the contactless experiments have been “game changers” for the fast-casual charburger chain, which plans to increase curbside pickup systemwide.
“It's hard to measure their sales, but the feedback that we're getting from our customers is amazing because it makes it safe. Basically, zero contact,” said Bendel, speaking to us from the chain’s corporate office.
During our chat, he told us how the Habit Burger plans to tackle operations in a post-pandemic world and answers the big question: Has the coronavirus crisis halted Yum’s plan to grow the Habit?
Checkout our Zoom chat to learn more.
For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.
This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.
Contact Nancy Luna at nancy.[email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven