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Restaurants switch focus to off-premise amid coronavirus concerns

From “contactless” delivery options to delivery deals and other offers, restaurants are trying a variety of ways to keep their customers—even those who may be wary of dining in restaurants right now.
Photograph: Shutterstock

With dine-in restaurant traffic in a virtual free-fall due to the coronavirus, operators are understandably looking for ways to boost off-premise business.

From “contactless” delivery options to delivery deals and other offers, restaurants are trying a variety of ways to keep their customers—even those who may be wary of dining in restaurants right now.

Grubhub on Friday announced it will temporarily forgo $100 million in commissions it would typically collect from independent restaurants, to help mitigate the potential financial disaster these businesses face.

“Online food delivery will only go up as people follow the guidelines of social distancing,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a press conference announcing the program.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit on Friday launched a “contactless doorstep drop-off delivery option” to pair with free delivery through April 30. The Dallas-based company promised that deliveries will come presealed to “guard against any tampering,” according to a press release.

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches asked customers to note whether they would prefer a noncontact delivery, and third-party delivery provider Postmates added no-contact as a delivery option in its app.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is offering free delivery starting Sunday and running through March.

“Increasing access to Chipotle is port of our ongoing digital strategy, but we decided to amplify the message with free delivery due to current events,” a Chipotle spokesman said.

Blaze Pizza, meanwhile, shifted its in-store Pi Day celebrations slated for Saturday to an on-line only promotion. Instead of an on-premise party that typically draws large crowds, the fast-casual pizza chain will offer $3.14 pizzas through its app starting Monday. 

“We continue to be hyper-focused on delivering a safe and enjoyable experience for our guests and team members,” said Mandy Shaw, Blaze Pizza’s CEO, in a statement. “Our restaurants remain open, and we look forward to serving guests their favorite pizza, whether they choose to dine in, or opt for delivery.”

And Yum Brands, parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said its brands are working with delivery partners “around the globe” to prepare for increasing demand for online ordering and delivery.  

Independent restaurants, who’ve reported tremendous sales losses since COVID-19 began spreading across the country, are also looking for innovative ways to boost off-premise sales.

In Chicago, bakery-cafe restaurant Baker Miller launched a program Friday for curbside or walk-in pickups through the restaurant’s website.

“Family Sized meals will also be added to the system early next week,” the restaurant said in a Facebook post. “We hope these new options help our team stay employed during a difficult time, so please don’t hesitate to use them.”

Seattle fine-dining establishment Canlis announced that, beginning Monday, it is “shutting down our dining room and bringing the food out to you.” The restaurant will temporarily launch three new off-premise-only concepts in its space.

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