- Panda announced that it plans to hire 30,000 employees across the country. The news comes as it plans to reopen dining rooms for carryout on Tuesday, according to a company release emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- The restaurant also announced Monday that it has launched a white label delivery service where diners can order off-premise meals via its website and mobile app, which are then fulfilled by a third-party platform. Panda Express planned to make this delivery change in 2021, but the plans were accelerated by economic pressure from the novel coronavirus, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
- The Chinese chain has more than 38,000 employees, and many of the restaurant's anticipated new hires will work safety-focused positions designed to decrease the spread of COVID-19. "While Panda hasn’t created new roles or titles as a result of COVID-19, the associate responsibilities have shifted to focus on contactless procedure such as curbside assistance, extra person in the drive-thru and a to-go and online ordering expediter," the company said in the email.
Unlike many restaurant chains during the pandemic, Panda claims it hasn't furloughed any of its workers — even at locations that temporarily closed. Employees at affected stores were granted store closure pay, and the chain invested more than $25 million in health and safety pay, store closure pay, change of operations pay, appreciation pay and its leave share program.
For most of the pandemic, Panda operated with a streamlined menu to expedite drive-thru and delivery orders, but the chain has now started to phase its full menu back in and expects all of its menu items to be available across its U.S. system by July.
The return of Panda's full menu at this time and its new delivery channel could position the chain to capture stronger off-premise sales. Diners that choose to order delivery through the company's website won't have to pay additional fees typically charged by third-party platforms. The chain is still continuing to work with third-party delivery providers along with this new in-house delivery channel, a Panda Express spokesperson told Restaurant Dive via email. The restaurant will offer free delivery June 18 through July 1 on orders over $10 to promote the service.
This new delivery revenue stream, combined with the company's robust hiring plans and lack of furloughs, suggest strong economic health despite the industry's tumultuous past few months. It's also emblematic of how the QSR category is faring much better than other restaurant segments thanks to drive-thrus and more robust off-premise services. Casual brands have suffered without these resources — TGI Fridays, for example, could close up to 20% of its 386 U.S. restaurants because of coronavirus-related sales declines. Bloomin' Brands has a 36.1% chance of defaulting, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, followed by The Cheesecake Factory at 28.8%, Denny's at 27.6% and Brinker International at 24.8%.
Meanwhile, QSRs are recruiting employees in droves. Dunkin', for example, just launched its first national recruitment campaign to fill 25,000 job openings, and Taco Bell, Raising Cane's and Little Caesar's are all looking to hire new employees as well.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the number of Panda Express employees was incorrect. The chain employs more than 38,000 staff members.