For more than a year and a half, restaurants across the U.S. have been working to adapt to the ever-changing world of COVID. Plexiglass seat dividers, outdoor dining setups, and QR code menus have become the norm at many establishments. Major fast food chains have also had to adapt, like Taco Bell revamping its menu to offer a simpler and narrower selection as more customers have started relying on drive-thru ordering. Now, these dining destinations are making a more widespread change that is being seen across multiple chains. Read on to find out what you might no longer be able to find at any of your favorite fast food restaurants.
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Major fast food chains are closing their indoor seating areas.
As many cities have started to require proof of COVID vaccination for indoor areas, some major fast food chains have chosen to close their seating areas altogether, Reuters reported on Oct. 1. White Castle has shut down the indoor seating sections of more than 20 of its locations in New York City after the city began mandating vaccination checks in September. Reuters reporters also visited two Taco Bell locations and three McDonald’s locations in NYC that had closed their indoor seating areas.
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Chains say they’re focusing more on different ordering options.
According to Reuters, getting rid of dine-in seating has allowed restaurants to focus more heavily on carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery orders, which tend to be more profitable. White Castle, for example, was “able to redeploy some labor to focus on drive-thru, delivery, and pick-up,” COO Jeff Carper told the news outlet.
Taco Bell told Reuters that it is encouraging customers to place digital orders for pickup and delivery. “Our restaurants comply with federal, state and local regulations and guidelines to keep our team members and customers safe,” the company said.
Closing indoor sections also helps offset labor shortages.
Closing down indoor seating areas also allows restaurants to eliminate the labor required to clean these seating areas and check customers’ proof of vaccination, which is both costly and hard to fill during the current labor shortage. According to an August study from data insights company Black Box Intelligence and job marketplace Snagajob, fast food restaurants are seeing some of the worst labor shortages out of all the sectors struggling.
Chick-fil-A franchises in Alabama and North Carolina shuttered their dining rooms in August because they did not have enough employees. “Due to lack of staff, we have resorted back to serving guests through our drive-thru only,” one of the locations in Calera, Alabama, said in an Aug. 17 Facebook post.
Another location in McCalla, Alabama, said that it is in “the midst of a staffing crisis,” especially as it moves into its busiest time of the year, from September through December. “We are unable to schedule enough team members to provide the excellent service that our guests deserve,” the McCalla team said.
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Some experts believe this change will be permanent.
While this could be a temporary change amid COVID, some experts caution against getting your hopes up. Mahmood Khan, a professor of hospitality and tourism management at Virginia Tech, told Quartz that in some cases, the loss of indoor dining will “be permanent because [chains] are investing quite a bit in changing the architecture of their restaurants.” In August, Taco Bell announced plans to open new restaurants with two to four drive-thru lanes in order to help cater to online ordering and pickup.
But Khan did say that restaurants in certain locations, like malls or those that have playgrounds, may keep indoor dining as an option in the future to cater to children, who are a big market for fast food chains. “Children would like to go and get some happy meal or enjoy and get some balloons. That is part of the fast food operations,” he explained.
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