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McDonald's Sets Conditions for Restaurant Reopenings

By Heather Haddon 

McDonald's Corp. is asking restaurant owners in the U.S. to make dozens of changes to ease coronavirus concerns before reopening their dining rooms, including commitments to clean bathrooms every half-hour and digital kiosks after each order.

The world's largest fast-food company by sales is also asking its hundreds of U.S. franchisees to enforce social distancing in its restaurants, and either close their public soda fountains or deploy a staff member to monitor them, according to a 59-page dine-in reopening guide viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The illustrated guide, written by the company last week, outlines the challenges that McDonald's expects employees to face as states begin to allow for sit-down restaurant service while upholding social-distancing rules. A three-page question-and-answer section in the guide covers security risks to workers managing resistant customers or loiterers.

New purchasing recommendations, including foot-pulls for doors to allow customers to open bathroom doors without using their hands, could lead to new expenses and logistical considerations for McDonald's hundreds of U.S. restaurant owners, franchisees said. The guide includes a list of products such as a $310 automatic towel dispenser and a $718 touchless sink.

All service workers also need to be outfitted with masks and gloves, and restaurants need to make face shields available for customers in jurisdictions requiring them, the guide said.

McDonald's wants customers to eat in their 14,000 U.S. locations again, but the company said it wants its restaurant owners to reopen when they are safely ready.

"We ask that you remember: we only get one chance to do this the right way," the guide said.

McDonald's said Wednesday that it will help restaurants particularly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to reopen operations by contributing to owners' marketing funds. The company also is allowing owners who have lost a significant portion of their income to apply for help from a "distressed restaurant team" being set up, according to a protocol document for owners.

Applicants are asked to specify their sales and customer losses during the pandemic, the impact to their geography and the specific financial help requested from the company, the document stated.

McDonald's and most other fast-food chains have fared better than sit-down restaurants during the crisis because they already made a chunk of sales at drive-throughs. Now nearly two dozen states have begun to allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms, though most have mandated occupancy restrictions of 25% or 50%.

McDonald's said it would reopen restaurants slowly in consultation with local authorities. It said that only a handful in the U.S. have resumed dine-in service so far.

"We have a responsibility to get this right, and sometimes doing the right thing takes time," a company spokesman said Wednesday.

The new restaurant procedures and employee training set a nationwide standard across U.S. McDonald's locations. Once met, an restaurant owner can choose whether to reopen dine-in service and how to staff their restaurants, he said. McDonald's didn't immediately say what would occur if the conditions weren't met.

Other companies, including Starbucks Corp., Wendy's Co. and Chick-fil-A Inc., have also said they plan to reopen dine-in service gradually. Restaurant Brands International Inc., the parent company of Burger King, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Tim Hortons, said about 1,000 of its restaurants in North America have fully reopened with adjustments like acrylic shields to separate diners.

McDonald's and its U.S. franchisees have discussed reopening plans for weeks, according to franchisees and internal communications viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

A top concern, franchisees said, is finding enough workers to reopen their dining rooms. The chain's official franchisee group wrote to restaurant owners last month that employment at their U.S. restaurants has dropped by 100,000 people since the crisis began. Application numbers have dropped too, they wrote. Restaurant owners say they are worried that workers will stay away because they fear contracting the virus or because their unemployment benefits pay them more than work at McDonald's.

The company's reopening guidelines mean potentially thinner crews at McDonald's restaurants would have more to do. Employees should undergo wellness and temperature checks, wash their hands every hour and abide by social-distancing requirements in kitchens, McDonald's said in the reopening guide.

Dining rooms should be sanitized according to guidelines set by outside companies such as Ecolab Inc., McDonald's said, and decals should be placed on floors to show customers where to wait for their food and how to move through restaurants. Some tables should be removed or closed off to allow 6 feet between customers, the company's guide said.

McDonald's said it was particularly concerned with soda fountains, which are difficult to clean. McDonald's told owners to turn off dining-room soda fountains or assign an employee to operate them.

One franchisee owner said he plans to turn off his fountain-drink machine and digital kiosks rather than have to clean them so often. He said he worries for the safety of his workers who need to enforce social distancing.

The guide provides talking points for confronting customers who don't want to follow distancing guidelines, as well as people lingering in bathrooms, sleeping outside or panhandling from guests.

"Our top priority is safety and, due to our cleaning guidelines, we ask that you refrain from bathing in our restroom," reads one suggested way employees should speak with customers.

Workers should use a timer to remind themselves every 30 minutes to wipe down surfaces including door handles, trash lids, counters and credit-card machines, according to the guidelines. They should clean bathrooms every 30 minutes, and post a schedule of completed cleanings.

If a customer wearing a mask is worried about interacting with others who aren't, employees should find the guest another spot to sit or offer to bring food to their car, the guide recommended. Workers should escort customers who sit too near others to another section, the guide said.

Workers are to bring food to customers in a bag folded-close twice, on a tray removed as soon as a diner verifies it is correct. Workers should make customers feel welcome with a thumbs-up, hand signals or a verbal greeting, the guide said.

Write to Heather Haddon at heather.haddon@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 14, 2020 10:44 ET (14:44 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.