UPDATE: March 16, 2020: Taco Bell told Restaurant Dive in an email that it has closed dining rooms in its company-owned restaurants. Taco Bell employs around 14,000 team members in over 450 company-owned stores. Shake Shack, Cava and several other chains have updated their operations. Additional information can be found on Restaurant Dive's tracker.
- Starbucks eliminated seating beginning Sunday in all of its U.S. and Canada stores for at least two weeks, but will continue to take orders at the counter and drive-thru, through an order ahead feature on its app, and delivery, according to a company announcement. The company also temporarily closed company-owned stores in high-social gathering areas, such as malls and universities, and temporarily closed or reduced operating hours in communities with high volumes of COVID-19 cases.
- Chick-fil-A closed its dining room seating over the weekend and some restaurants may only offer service through drive-thrus while others may offer takeout, delivery or mobile order options, according to a company announcement.
- Taco Bell is preparing its restaurants to serve guests through drive-thru and delivery only where necessary, CEO Mark King said in a letter to its guests on Saturday.
Within the last few days, restaurants have shifted focus to off-premise only in order to maintain public safety standards while staying in business during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant chains, in general, were already shifting toward a heavy off-premise model by offering pickup shelves, mobile apps and delivery, but the outbreak has forced many to rapidly accelerate efforts.
QSRs are particularly adept in off-premise already with 70% of sales occurring at the drive-thru, so the transition may not hurt business as much as dine-in restaurant chains, which are facing local restrictions on dine-in guests and could be forced to close down completely. Restaurant reservations have declined sharply in the last week, especially in coronavirus hot spots like Washington state, where reservations declined 12% since March 1, declining 53% on Friday, according to Open Table data reported by Restaurant Business.
Restaurants that adjust their operations quickly to stay open will be at an advantage to weather the coronavirus storm. Starbucks has the most experience in dealing with COVID-19 after enduring thousands of store closures in China and shifting to a contactless experience, but still is expected to take a hit of over $400 million due to these closures. With over 18,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, it will need to stay open as long as possible to try and keep additional financial losses at bay. The chain added a how-to guide to walk customers through the digital ordering experience. It also has been rolling out test stores for a pickup only format, opening these stores in China, as well as one in New York City last year.
Taco Bell also appears to be prepared for the transition.
"We are already very focused on our drive-thru, which accounts for a large part of our business, and are working with delivery partners around the globe to prepare for an increase in demand for online ordering and delivery services," Taco Bell told Restaurant Dive.
In the fast casual space, Sweetgreen moved to a digital ordering only experience on Monday at all of its 104 stores, according to an email sent to Restaurant Dive. As of press time, Shake Shack and Cava have done so as well. The salad chain is prohibiting dine-in and only allowing people to pick up their orders during their designated time. Chipotle began offering free delivery on Sunday for minimum orders of $10 and is using tamper-evident packaging.
While restaurants and their guests adjust to a new normal, more chains will likely switch to to-go only operations to try and stay open, but with talks of a nationwide shutdown of restaurants, business will get a lot more difficult in the days and weeks ahead.