Restaurant Brands Quickly Pivot to Off-Premises Options
Contactless food delivery is quickly become the norm for restaurants.
A version of this story was originally published by Franchise Times’ sister publication, Food On Demand.
Empty, closed-off dining rooms, even in areas where it’s not mandated by local governments, are among the most visible indicators of the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic, and operators are scrambling to figure out off-premises solutions.
Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Chick-fil-A were the first brands to announce they would shut down dining rooms but remain open for delivery and to-go orders. And hour by hour, more brands announce drastic changes to operations.
Short of a full shutdown, many casual dining companies are significantly tweaking operations as social distancing radically impacts the industry.
Fogo de Chao, perhaps the exact opposite of social distancing on a good day, is offering its unique meat-centric menu for curbside pickup and delivery in some markets. Customers can get their favorite gaucho meat and sides without the gaucho.
Boston Market axed delivery fees and is pushing feast meals for 12 so families stuck indoors can get a smorgasbord and some leftovers as well. The company is delivering meals to the front door with no contact, if customers prefer.
For limited-service restaurants, things may be a little easier. Many companies are pushing delivery and takeout in a new round of marketing. Wing Zone, which predominantly does its own delivery, has shifted to unlimited free deliveries for a month. Co-founder and CEO Matt Friedman said a major marketing effort actually pushed sales up year-over-year.
“We’re putting a lot of marketing dollars behind it and we’re paying for that out of our pocket,” said Friedman. “I think the biggest thing is taking care of our people. We’ve had a nice surge in delivery, so whatever driver wants to work, they’re able to work. People have been incredibly gracious with tips.”
He said the company is “definitely not over staffed” but expects more people to come in as time goes on when savings dwindle and cabin fever sets in.
Just Salad, the lunch-heavy salad concept, made the move to 100 percent digital ordering to ensure the safety of staff and customers; it’s also more efficient for delivery orders.
“By focusing solely on digital orders, our team can execute at an even higher level and is well-suited to handle the increased demand we expect from customers who are working from home,” CEO Nick Kenner said. “As we see more orders come in through our digital channels, these measures will help minimize impacts to their work schedules and maximize their safety. We are also providing an additional free meal to employees and their families, should their work schedules become impacted by the COVID-19 situation.”
Kenner said the company has a 15-minute-or-your-money-back guarantee for takeout-ordering patrons in New York and New Jersey. Like many companies, it’s also suspending delivery fees and putting orders in tamperproof packaging.
Mooyah Burgers Fries & Shakes is offering free delivery through the company app as well, and communicated directly to loyalty members to update them about cleanliness. The push to online and free delivery was already planned as a way to drive customers to the company app, but President Tony Darden said they moved up the campaign to both capitalize on homebound customers and keep sales flowing, at least trickling. Darden said they’ve slowed down the menu innovation and limited-time-offer schedule as well.
“We’re putting some of that innovation work on hold to market to-go and the app, and let our owners focus on executing in their four walls,” said Darden. “The last thing we want them to do is figure out an LTO rollout or training.”
Scores of restaurant owners are scrambling right now to figure out what exactly to do, and as many people who spoke to Franchise Times said, things remain “fluid.” But the sliver of good news is that everyone seems to be pushing in the same direction. And, as restaurant operators know, though the COVID-19 virus continues to wreak havoc on the industry, people still have to eat.