- Burger King will test an app for digital orders and dine-in reservations at three of its Milan restaurants when they are allowed to fully reopen, according to Reuters. The chain expects to fully reopen June 1.
- “We need to be good at showing people that it’s safe to come to a place which is perceived as being crowded, and give them options so they understand there is a safe way to come in,” Andrea Valota, Burger King’s chief in Italy, told Reuters.
- If the app performs well, it could be used in other countries, Valota said. It allows diners to order food, pay and book a table from home before entering a Burger King location. Diners can also use the app to order takeaway. Roughly one-third of tables in the three restaurants will be reserved for bookings during peak hours, and social distancing requirements will reduce dining capacity by more than 50%.
Restaurants across segments were already looking to Italy as a sign of things to come to the U.S. once states ease dining restrictions, and Burger King's app could give QSRs a roadmap for bringing customers back safely.
Dine-in traffic isn't a major concern for more fast food chains in the U.S. since drive-thru and curbside pickup sales are surging. Shake Shack, for example, just announced that it will overhaul existing locations to add drive-thrus and pick-up windows to capitalize on the trend. But allowing diners to book a seat at a QSR could help boost sales in urban inline locations — the majority of which have temporarily closed due to municipal social distancing mandates.
Burger King Italy's experience is different from the current American QSR experience, however. Valota told Reuters that before the novel coronavirus pandemic, dine-in sales drove around 70% of Burger King Italy revenue, and that the company aims for in-store sales to make up 50% of overall revenue with the booking system.
“The rest should be made thanks to drive-thru and home delivery, which before the crisis was really marginal,” he said.
Reservations could also help give Burger King an edge over industry rivals if it expands the feature to other markets and could help build a health and safety halo for the brand as both restaurants and diners navigate the industry's "new normal." Valota told Reuters he expects the novel coronavirus pandemic could change diner behavior for as much as two years.
McDonald's Netherlands is also testing ways to keep diners safe as restaurants reopen, including social distancing decals, and may even deliver customers' meals to them on trolleys where they can collect their orders instead of directly interacting with McDonald's staff.