TORONTO — As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise, the foodservice industry is seeing precautions taken across the board.
Starbucks, which had already suspended use of reusable cups and upped its in-house sanitization measures, announced Sunday it’s “made the decision to move to our next level of protocols,” an initiative that includes the temporarily stoppage of all seating, including café and patios, throughout its U.S. and Canada restaurants. The company said the switch to a to-go-only model would last at least two weeks. Café, mobile order & pay, drive thru, and delivery will still be open.
Second Cup Coffee Company has temporarily suspended cash transactions, eliminated self-serve milk stations and will stop the use of any ceramic mugs and dishware.
Meanwhile, fast-food giant McDonald’s has announced its iconic play-places will be shut down for the time being, in an effort to slow down this spread of the virus. It will also cancel its new Wednesday Family-Night activities.
The news comes as no surprise as industry professionals in all sectors are preparing for the worst.
“The global health situation we’re facing now is a concern for all industries in Canada. Restaurants Canada is working together with various coalitions of industry allies to coordinate with government. The measures the federal government has already announced are a step in the right direction. Most restaurants are small businesses and they need help in exceptional circumstances like these to support their staff while continuing to safeguard the health and safety of their customers,” says Restaurants Canada in an emailed statement.
The foodservice industry is one of the hardest hit and most-easily exposed business sectors during this time of fear and panic. A Technomic study found more than 30 per cent of Americans would be willing to stop all eating-out occasions for up to three months, leaving an industry with notoriously thin profit margins on its knees, at the mercy of this virus.
“Running a restaurant in Canada is already very difficult for a number of reasons, with the average profit margin being less than five per cent. Some restaurant operators have definitely seen a decline in their number of guests during a time when they would normally be expecting much higher traffic. A drop in traffic of this kind can be extremely difficult to recover from,” continues the Restaurants Canada statement.
Blaze Pizza, a North-American pizza chain, had to shut down its popular Pi-day event, held every year on March 14 (3.14).
“However, due to the popularity and crowd sizes we see each year during Blaze Pi Day, and increasing concerns regarding COVID-19 and large public gatherings, we are changing this event. The health and safety of our guests and team members are of paramount importance to us, so instead of offering $3.14 pizzas on March 14 at our restaurants, we’ll be offering the Blaze Pi Day reward to all app users through the Blaze app, redeemable starting on March 16 and expiring December 31 so you can enjoy your Blaze Pi Day pizza reward any day this year,” says a press release from Blaze Pizza.
Toronto’s Mildred’s Temple Kitchen has elected to temporarily close until further notice, in light of the coronavirus’s spread, giving customers the recipe to their famous pancakes online for them to enjoy in the safety of their own homes as the pandemic continues.
QSR giant KFC Canada is choosing a safety- through-patience approach, keeping a watchful eye on events, yet no tangible actions have been taken by the company at this time.
“We’re diligently monitoring and closely following all guidance from global, national and local health authorities regarding the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to keep our customers, employees and restaurants safe. We will continue to maintain and follow our high standards and protocols, while also establishing precautionary measures specific to this issue, to ensure outstanding health and hygiene in all of our restaurants. Additionally, KFC will closely follow any new recommended protocols from all applicable health authorities as they are announced,” says a KFC representative in an emailed statement.
Third-party delivery services have instituted precautionary measures as well. With more people willing to order in, services such as Doordash, Uber Eats, ChanMao Inc. and SkipTheDishes have all benefited from the introduction of the contactless delivery method in which the food is paid for, delivered and received without any interpersonal contact. Using the apps, custom delivery instructions can be added, whereby the delivery person will leave the food in a safe place and alert the customer when it arrives.
“Beyond simply monitoring the situation, we’re taking active measures to make sure the food that gets delivered to your home is safe and secure. In affected areas, we’ve begun distributing hand sanitizer and gloves to Dashers. In our app, we’re testing enhanced drop-off options for customers and Dashers to more easily enable a no-contact delivery, which we’ll roll out in the coming days. Today, customers who prefer a no-contact delivery can make that request in the delivery instructions,” says Tony Xu, CEO , co-founder of Doordash in an emailed statement.
Doordash has also taken measures to protect its drivers and delivery people.
“During this time of uncertainty, we also want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of the Dashers out on the roads, who work so hard to make mealtime magic happen in homes around the globe. To support the Dasher community, we’ve introduced a COVID-19 Financial Assistance Program, which will provide up to two weeks of assistance to eligible Dashers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are subject to individual quarantine at the direction of public health officials. The program will be available globally in all of the markets we serve in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), Canada, and Australia,” says Xu.
The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, released a statement over the weekend closing all sit-down restaurants, limiting them to take out and delivery. Nightclubs, theatres and concert venues will also all be shut down effective March 17.
“Our lives are all changing in ways that were unimaginable just a week ago. We’re taking a series of actions we never would have taken otherwise in an effort to save the lives of loved ones and our neighbours. Now it is time to take another drastic step. The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together. We have to break that cycle,” says De Blasio in a statement.