How To Reopen Restaurants? McDonald’s Has A Playbook
May 15, 2020 by George Anderson, Forbes
McDonald’s, like many companies across the U.S., is chomping at the bit to get back to its normal business, but the new normal described in the fast-food giant’s guide to reopening restaurants looks a lot different than the one that existed before the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The “The Dine-In Reopening Playbook” published for franchisees and company-owned restaurant managers describes in detail the process for welcoming customers back to eat at the chain’s more than 14,000 U.S. locations.
The process begins with regional officials from McDonald’s visiting restaurants once local or state government announce an easing of COVID-19-related restrictions. The company’s representative consults with franchisees to determine whether or not to reopen for dine-in customers.
The comprehensive reopening strategy drew accolades from some on the RetailWire BrainTrust in an online discussion today. "Kudos to McDonald’s for developing a playbook which other restaurants, particularly independent operators, could copy, modify and implement to meet their particular operational needs," wrote Richard George, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University.
"McDonald’s is respected for its thorough approach to operations and franchisee compliance," wrote Ben Ball, senior vice president at Dechert-Hampe. "Their blueprint is likely to become a QSR standard and open the path for others to follow, facilitating opening, which will be difficult enough."
The New York Times reports that fewer than 100 U.S. McDonald’s are currently open for dine-in customers. Jesse Lewin, a company spokesperson, told the paper that discussions between McDonald’s and franchisees have been taking place for “the last several weeks.”
The cost of reopening restaurants will not be inexpensive, according to a Wall Street Journal report. In addition to stepped-up cleaning regimens for ordering kiosks, tables, restrooms and other frequently touched surfaces throughout locations, there will be the added expense of masks and gloves for workers.
Some restaurants may also be required by new regulations to make face shields available to sit-down customers to allow them to eat their meals while seeking to contain potentially virus-carrying emissions. McDonald’s has also provided franchisees with other safety options, including sensor-operated towel dispensers ($310) and touchless sinks ($718). Restaurants that are interested in reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus through door handles can purchase foot-pulls.
Difficult as they may be, some on the BrainTrust saw the regulations as crucial and worth the effort.
"Uncertainty breeds discomfort, and people don’t like discomfort," wrote Ryan Grogman, managing partner at Retail Consulting Partners. "This sort of playbook provides communication, guidelines and an overall plan. It will absolutely make workers and customers feel more comfortable. And even though not everyone will be ready to start dining in, it’s imperative that they too see there are approaches like this being put out so they can make their own informed decisions."
Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor, noted that such moves from retailers are filling a critical void. "Without national standards and practices, everyone is left to try to figure it out on their own," wrote Mr. Phibbs. "McDonald’s is really more in the drink business than the food business so drive-thru is still their strong suit. Every business is anxious to make their customers feel they can be trusted. I think this is going to be adopted by franchisees fairly quickly."
Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, said the company published its 59-page illustrated guide because all locations will need to meet not only the government’s but its own standards before reopening for sit-down customers. “We only get one chance to do this the right way,” the guide says.
Even fans of the move, though, had concerns about its practical implementation. "The biggest financial question for franchisees will be, will these new procedures (such as face shields) last?" wrote Mr. Ball. "And if so, for how long? Is it worth the investment?" "Unfortunately, the typical McDonald’s (in my observation) already had cleanliness issues, from the floors to the tabletops," wrote Dick Seesel, principal at Retailing in Focus. "Does the company (and its franchisees) have the ability to execute much more stringent standards on a national basis?"
The fast-feeder has also included a three-page Q&A in its guide to help restaurants deal with customers who may be unwilling to adhere to social distancing and other safety rules. Speaking to that, some on the BrainTrust noted that staff are not the only ones who have to up their game to safely open restaurants in the new era.
"It’s important that restaurants create processes to keep everyone safe," wrote Cathy Hotka, principal at Cathy Hotka and Associates. "It’s also important that customers respect these actions and follow staff guidance. McDonald’s is certainly up to the task; are its diners?"