Popeyes and Burger King’s CEO Says Coronavirus May Permanently Alter the Restaurant Experience

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When Americans return to restaurants, they’ll be facing a different sort of dine-in experience.

That’s according to José Cil, the CEO of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons. In an open letter published today that RBI shared with Adweek, Cil addressed the changes that RBI’s locations will incorporate upon reopening—and may remain a part of the restaurant experience, even after the coronavirus pandemic has ended.

“We have fully embraced the notion that parts of our restaurants need to change,” Cil said. “Certainly, for the foreseeable future and possibly forever.”

Some of those changes that RBI will be incorporating include mandating that employees wear both gloves and masks—Cil said that the items “may become part of our standard uniforms”—building up digital capabilities such as partnering with delivery apps and expanding mobile ordering.

In-store, new protective measures are also being introduced and employees are receiving additional training in updated health and cleanliness protocols as well as having daily temperature checks at the start of their shifts.

Acrylic shields and contactless payment options already exist at “at most of our restaurants,” Cil said, and added that they’ll mandate social distancing within dining rooms, even at restaurants in cities or states that aren’t requiring such rules. Signage will also indicate which tables are available to sit at in order to keep space between patrons.

It’ll perhaps be easier to implement social distancing at QSRs like Popeyes and Burger King, which don’t revolve around the sit-down restaurant format that requires a server visiting tables.

“We benefit from a business model inside our restaurants that has minimal contact with anyone other than your friends and family who you are sitting with,” Cil said.

These changes are the product of daily calls with 30 of RBI’s senior restaurant leaders from around the world, which, Cil said, allowed them to learn from the experience of colleagues in Asia, who are a few months ahead on the timeline of the pandemic.

Of course, these changes will also allow RBI’s locations to bring back the dine-in experience to communities that have gone without it for over two months. Cil acknowledged that the act of people gathering at a restaurant is a natural part of the human experience, but it must be adjusted for, at the very least, the time being.

“One of the most normal things in our lives is coming together. And that often includes sitting down with your family or friends and enjoying a meal together at a restaurant,” said Cil. “We are working very hard to continue to build your confidence in the measures we are taking to keep you safe in our restaurants—so you can more quickly return to a sense of comfort and normalcy in bringing your family inside to sit down for a meal.”

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