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McDonald’s is stepping up its safety efforts as COVID surges again

The company will emphasize contactless payment and plans more inspections of restaurants to ensure they are taking proper steps to protect against the spread of coronavirus.
McDonald's COVID
Photograph: Shutterstock

McDonald’s is planning more inspections of its restaurants to ensure they’re following safety guidelines and will work to ensure its franchisees have effective contactless payment equipment as it girds for a winter of surging infections.

The Chicago-based burger giant said on Friday that it plans to make “safety reaffirmation visits” to each of its franchise organizations to ensure operators are following proper procedures for preventing the spread of the virus.

The company’s National Franchisee Leadership Alliance, an internal organization of franchisees, backs the move, according to an internal memo seen by Restaurant Business. The company and each franchisee will inspect one store and then franchisees will go and visit the rest of their stores to ensure safety protocols are understood and followed.

The memo, from NFLA head Mark Salebra, franchisee Tracy Johnstone and U.S. Chief Field Officer Charlie Strong, also noted that the company will emphasize back-of-house protective panels to help with social distancing, along with equipment for contactless payment.

“We’ll end by reminding the system that our actions are being watched very closely by consumers, crew and other external stakeholders,” the memo says. “In some cases, allegations have been made by critics with an agenda. However, we welcome that, because we are committed to addressing any concerns that impact the safety of our people and customers …”

The memo comes amid complaints from workers over what they say are operators’ failure to provide personal protection equipment or alert employees of potential exposure—workers have filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, over apparent pressure for employees to work even with infections.

McDonald’s has largely kept its dining rooms closed during the pandemic, a decision made possible thanks to the success of its drive-thrus, which generated 70% of its business even before quarantine. It has also taken several steps designed to prevent the spread of the disease within its restaurants, such as plexiglass partitions in the drive-thru.

But as the virus surges—there were more than 150,000 new infections just on Thursday, for instance, and close to 1 million in the U.S. over the past eight days—the company is taking further steps.

In July, McDonald’s began working on safety practices with the Mayo Clinic. On Friday, the company said it plans to share what it found with other industry leaders. It is uncertain whether those industry leaders will be limited to restaurants or whether they will include other types of businesses.

“This is an area where we don’t see anyone as a competitor,” Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, wrote in a Medium post. “The more that an organization of our scope and scale can share what we’ve learned, the more we can help make everyone safer.”

There is some concern that safety protocols may be getting lax as people tire of taking extra steps to ensure safety. “It is apparent we are entering what many predicted would be the most difficult period of the pandemic,” McDonald’s safety memo said. “With COVID fatigue setting in, we need to continue ensuring the safety of our people and customers and maintain the customer trust we worked so hard to build.”

The effort is coming both from corporate and franchise leadership. Initial inspections will feature the franchisee and the company. After that, each franchisee needs to visit all of its restaurants to revisit safety, health and sanitation protocols with employees “so everyone on your team is aware of the opportunities and what is needed to improve.”

The company expects that process to be complete by the end of the year. McDonald’s may do follow-up visits “where deemed necessary.”

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