How Fast Food Restaurants Are Planning to Reopen Dining Rooms

Say goodbye to self-serve soda (for now).

If you were wondering what fast food restaurant dine-in experiences will look like as we ease out of the COVID-19 pandemic, two of the biggest companies in America—McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands International (RBI), owner of Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Horton’s—revealed their plans this week.

On Tuesday, RBI CEO Jose Cil published an open letter on the company website proposing that “reopening dining rooms requires both confidence and comfort.” “We are now moving into the next phase of reopening dining rooms according to guidance from local authorities,” he stated. “We have fully embraced the notion that parts of our restaurants need to change—certainly, for the foreseeable future and possibly forever.”

social distancing measures at McDonald's

Specifically, he outlines a number of new safety protocols including considering “comfortable and reusable masks that may become part of our standard uniforms.” “We have acrylic shields and contactless service at most of our restaurants,” he continued. “We are maintaining a ‘safe distance’ rule in our dining rooms—whether communities require it or not. We have designed beautiful tabletop signage to indicate which tables are open and which ones are reserved to help maintain safe distances. We will be sanitizing tables and chairs after each use and will have hand sanitizer available in the dining room for our guests. We have turned off our self-serve soda fountains and are offering beverages, extra condiments and trays from the behind the front counter.”

Yesterday, McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger also chimed in with his own update on the company site. Beyond the “nearly 50 process changes in restaurants and increased training for restaurant crew” implemented since the pandemic started, he added, “We are building on the processes already in place such as wellness checks, social distancing floor stickers, protective barriers at order points, masks and gloves for employees with the addition of new procedures, and training for the reopening of dining rooms. These will serve as a set of nationwide standards for operations across all 14,000 U.S. McDonald’s locations.”

Erlinger then laid out several specific changes. Customers should expect to see a “clear designation of available seating” as some tables are closed to accommodate social distancing. Play Places will be shut, and dine-in beverage procedures will be “modified” to minimize contact. Food will be delivered directly to customers’ tables in “double-folded” bags, and expect crew members to be wearing face coverings and gloves. Masks may even be available for customers “in municipalities where they are required.” Finally, the chain says they are “doubling down on sanitation,” and you may see signs indicating that a table has been sanitized.

Erlinger continued, “With adherence to these new procedures and guidance, as well as continuing to rely on guidance from CDC, state and local authorities, McDonald’s, in partnership with Owner/Operators will make reopening decisions that are right for the local communities and help ensure restaurant crew and customers feel safe and welcome.”

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