March 20, 2020

Pivoting to off-premises

Many restaurants are switching over to takeout and delivery only during the coronavirus outbreak.

Every day, more states and municipalities advise or mandate closing on-premises dining in restaurants, bars and other foodservice establishments due to the threat of the coronavirus (see COVID-19 Resources by State at

Some restaurants are closing completely until the bans are lifted. Others might close for good.

Operators realize that to continue serving their customers and communities, they need to adapt business models to optimize off-premises options including curbside pick-up, drive-thru and delivery.

Here are some tips, and actual examples we’ve come across to help you make the most of your resources and keep foodservice safe during these unprecedented times.

Rethink customer interactions

Foodservice and hospitality are social, service-oriented businesses. Following coronavirus precautions, that “social” aspect is not out the window, but through the window in today’s environment. Keeping a distance and minimizing contact is imperative.

  • Get set and staffed for curbside pick-up. For drive-up service, designate a parking space curbside or in your parking lot with signage. Some restaurants ask their customers to give a quick honk, while others ask customers to call when they arrive to pick up their orders (ask them for the make and color of the car). The tech-savvy will use location technology to identify customers picking up orders. Work with your local municipality to designate public spaces for curbside pick-up if you need them.
  • Rethink payment options. More restaurants are opting for cashless transactions (which are often touchless) through mobile payment apps and credit card readers. If they’re willing, customers can pay by giving their credit card over the phone, as well. Don’t use payment methods that require a pen signature.
  • Take care with cash. Starbucks has changed its cash-handling procedures at its drive-thru windows, designating a single person to handle transactions, and allowing (but not mandating) employees to wear gloves. Remember, gloves need to be changed between transactions! Make sure you have a strict employee handwashing policy in place and sanitize the POS components often.

Streamline your drive-thru

Recommendations, most from FER magazine, include

  • Making sure the drive-thru station hand sink is clear and accessible so employees can wash hands often. It should be stocked with soap and paper towels.
  • An air curtain keeps temperatures in and insects out, but it’s also an added barrier between customer and employee.
  • Adding or restocking an undercounter fridge, because some customers are asking for bottled beverages instead of fountain drinks.

Packaging recommendations

  • With more restaurants moving to off-premises, packaging supplies are critical. According to the Arizona State Association’s communication with Western Paper Co., entree containers might need to be able to hold the integrity of the food (hot, cold, crisp, etc), for longer than normal, especially if they’re being delivered, due the increase in delivery demand.
  • Clear lids: Being able to see the food after it’s packed keeps employees from opening to verify what’s packed and helps keep orders straight. This also reduces deterioration and contamination risk. Using sticker systems can help identify orders without reopening packages as well.
  • Bags need to be sealed in some way. There are bags that have sticker seals for tamper-proof delivery, or you can use the old faithful stapler to staple the bag shut.

Enforce food safety training

Just because the focus of operations is moving to a drive-thru, curbside or delivery framework, essential food handling practices in the back of the house MUST remain the same.

  • Ensure foods are prepared and held within safe time/temperature parameters.
  • Prevent cross contamination.
  • Follow cleaning and sanitizing protocols.
  • Tell ill employees to stay at home.

Revise your menu

Focus on menu items you can prepare and package easily for drive-thru, pick-up and takeout. Some restaurants continue to offer their entire menu for takeout. Others are limiting items due to the high cost of maintaining inventory when sales are down.

Think about menus items that are popular, quick to serve, travel well, and fulfill the needs of homebound families and individuals.

  • Canlis, the iconic fine-dining restaurant in Seattle, took advantage of its location on a busy highway and revamped its menu to offer “drive-up” service. It includes The Bagel Shed (made in a cargo container on the property), which serves breakfast; Drive On Thru serving burgers to drive-up customers; and Family Meal designed for home delivery through online reservation system Tock.
  • Dringk Eatery + Bar, Palm Springs, Calif., is offering takeout during the crisis, but owner Carmen Shaw also is preparing stock-up foods for patrons, such as big jars of scratch soups and family-sized salads.
  • In Chicago, Pacific Standard Time revamped its business model to offer a PST Family Meal
    for curbside pick-up from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Menus for the four-person meals ($40) are posted a day in advance on its website and via daily emails to customers for online ordering.

Communicate with customers

  • Let your customers know on your website, social media channels and through emails what your hours, menu and policy will be for takeout, pick-up and drive-thru service.
  • Many restaurants are posting links to a variety of information on COVID-19 and are especially highlighting their own policies and procedures pertaining to the crisis.

Make use of the National Restaurant Association’s coronavirus resources page, which is updated regularly and includes the latest directives and mandates from local and state governments. For all your safe food handling guidance, go to

Sponsored by Heartland, a longtime supporter of the restaurant industry, and an exclusive partner of the National Restaurant Association for payments, payroll, point of sale, customer engagement and funding solutions.