The Pandemic and Restaurant Re-Openings: What Lies Ahead?

Normalcy is a concept that people have been idealizing for over a year now. The pandemic dramatically shifted daily life on a micro and macro scale for everyone. Limited social interaction has become the norm, with many people connecting virtually. For a major chunk of 2020, indoor dining was closed. Restaurants gradually enabled takeout and eased into indoor dining coinciding with regulations. Locations of major restaurant chains had to close across the country because they were not economically viable. Small, family-owned restaurants suffered a similar fate with exacerbated effects. Throughout this time period, restaurants revamped their operational model and that begs the question: are these changes here to stay?

We checked the re-opening conditions for some of the biggest restaurant chains. Individual restaurant locations will have to comply with local and federal policies, so your local restaurant may have different policies in place. Be sure to contact your preferred location before going!

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Golden Corral's new buffet lines

Coronavirus measures at Golden Corral

Current Requirements and Re-Openings at Major Restaurants 

In May 2021, the CDC announced that those who were fully vaccinated did not need to wear masks anymore. While regulations and requirements will vary based on location, here are updated rules by major restaurant chains:

  • Chipotle has dropped the mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals. Employees must still wear masks. The restaurant has also emphasized their stance on health and safety by cooking in small batches, holding daily wellness checks, creating an air purification system at every branch, and revising their health and safety standards.
  • Starbucks has made face masks optional for fully vaccinated people, but this is superseded by local regulations. In locations where café seating is closed, restrooms will also generally remain closed. Employees will have their temperature taken prior to their shift and will carry out expanded cleaning measures as well.
  • Some Chick-fil-A locations have reopened dining, while others have temporarily suspended carryout and dining. The chain remains committed to employee wellness and food safety. To see the requirements at your local Chick-fil-A, search for your location here.
  • Taco Bell is open for delivery, dine-in, drive-through, and carryout. Fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks inside. Regardless of local mandates, employees at Taco Bell are wearing gloves and masks while implementing enhanced safety measures.
  • The majority of McDonald’s locations are open. The franchise is offering dine-in, drive-through, and no contact delivery services. In response to the pandemic, McDonald’s has increased their hygiene standards and taken steps to facilitate social distancing by closing off tables and some seating sections. The fast-food giant has also standardized the wearing masks and gloves by employees at all locations. Masks are available for those who need or want to wear one.
  • Indoor dining at Arby’s remains limited and dependent on location. Drive-thru and carryout are options at most locations. The fast-food chain has reduced seating to coincide with pandemic regulations and limited self-stations as well. Masks are required by employees as well, along with rigorous cleaning practices. To see whether your local Arby’s is open for dine-in, search for your location here.
  • Subway is open for dine-in, but the chain has revised its health and safety standards in response to the pandemic. In addition to enhanced cleaning and hygiene procedures such as hourly cleaning, the chain also has installed plexiglass shields at registers and requires employees to wear masks and single-use gloves. Subway also remains committed to social distancing for employees and guests alike.
  • KFC is offering a dine-in option along with no contact delivery, carryout, and drive through. The mask mandate is not regulated, but employees will still wear masks. The restaurant chain has enacted strict health and safety procedures and installed Plexiglas shields at counters. They have also placed social distancing markers on tables and counters across their many locations.
  • Domino’s was one of the few firms that did not dramatically suffer from the impacts of the pandemic. Domino’s traditionally has not offered dine-in options, even before the pandemic. Thus, their transition was smoother than most. They expanded their health and safety model along with their delivery and pick-up options to limit contact as much as possible. Employees are required to wear masks and those touching food will be wearing gloves. Other employees may be required to wear gloves depending on the location.
  • Pizza Hut is currently offering delivery and carryout options for customers. In the wake of the pandemic, their business model was modified to reduce the number of dine-in options significantly. The company has been gradually decreasing dine-in locations and shifting to more modern delivery options utilized by their competitors. The Pizza Hut staff will have to undergo routine temperature tests, wear non-surgical masks, and carry out the revised health standards. Counter shields will also be present at Pizza Hut locations. To see the status of your local Pizza Hut and confirm the presence of a dine-in option, click here to search for your location.


Long-Term Implications and Predictions

Generally speaking, the restaurant industry took a big hit due to the pandemic. Over 110,000 restaurants and bars closed in 2020 because of COVID-19. This begs the question: what will dining, and restaurant etiquette look like after the pandemic is behind us? During the worst months of the pandemic, limited outdoor dining (when possible) became the norm for those that wanted a physical experience at a restaurant. Restaurants expanded their services to include safer and expanded delivery and carryout options for customers. Many food apps were redesigned and polished because online ordering became a necessity. These expanded services are here to stay. Chains such as Domino’s were able to withstand the pandemic because they had expanding remote services before the pandemic began. This diversification will ultimately lead to an increase in business sales in this technological era. Prior to the pandemic, 69% of customers ordered delivery; during the pandemic, that percentage rose to 88%. The world was a different place before the pandemic, but the raw statistics show an increase in preference for online ordering. The pandemic simply accelerated this trend.

Indoor dining is still a popular option for many, but the precautions taken during the pandemic will most likely be in place for months to years after its conclusion. Lower seating capacity makes it easier to comply with heightened health and safety protocols and bolsters the business’ chances of withstanding another detrimental event, like a pandemic. In addition, restaurants will also diversify their menu offerings. Trade was another facet of the economy that was negatively impacted by the virus. While trade will gradually resume and recover, the impacts of its collapse forced restaurants to expand and alter their menus because of a lack of necessary product. Non-traditional menu items, for this reason, will continue in many chains after the pandemic for this reason.

Innovation is progression. The pandemic has proven that restaurants cannot stagnate in a rapidly changing world. While business models may not change dramatically, the change in services offered by restaurants are here to stay, likely into the distant future. These measures serve to preserve the health of customers and staff, but also coincide with trends leaning towards a more technologically dependent society. There will always be adversity in life; the manner in which we adapt and evolve to these obstacles is a measure of how successful we will be. In time we will see how this will be manifested in the restaurant industry.

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