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Their dining rooms closed, restaurants mimic dine-in experience via takeout and delivery

As they suspend on-premise operations to prevent spread of the coronavirus, here’s how some restaurants are creating on-premise ambiance and community in the era of social distancing.
chipotle together
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle

The data has said as much for years: Consumers dine out because they’re looking for an experience, one they can’t replicate on their couches while bingeing shows on Netflix.

But what happens when dining rooms are forced to close to slow the spread of a pandemic?

Restaurants bring the in-restaurant experience home.

In the age of the coronavirus, some restaurants are finding ways to mimic the dine-in experience even as they pivot to delivery and takeout operations.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is hosting virtual lunchtime meetups while its dining rooms are closed. The fast-casual chain, which has been innovative in its use of social media, shares a link each day to the meetup on its Twitter feed, hosted on teleconferencing site Zoom. The online gatherings feature celebrities and Q&A sessions, and select participants receive codes for free entrees.

Chipotle is also hosting gatherings on its Instagram feed and on those of select public figures, including livestream meditation and live concerts.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on Monday launched a “Fried Chicken N Chill” campaign, offering to give out login information to the company’s Netflix account so customers can enjoy the streaming service with their at-home fried chicken orders. Customers are eligible to receive the password after tweeting “ThatPasswordFromPopeyes” with a picture of their food.

Eatertainment chain Chuck E. Cheese’s, known as a birthday-party celebration spot, is now selling family fun packs and party packs for delivery, including goody bags with toys, a doll, cake and gaming tickets for a future visit.

Independent concepts, too, are finding ways to mirror some of their dine-in sensibilities with delivery and carryout.

Chicago-based Roots Pizza, which remains open for delivery and carryout, is known for giving kids a ball of raw dough to play with while they wait for their pizza. The restaurant is including that with its off-premise orders.

Roots, part of the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, also included resources for mental health and entertainment in a recent email to customers, including ways to watch TV with friends online and take free online yoga classes.

Other operators are offering interactive food and beverage to create an off-premise experience.

Santa Monica, Calif., restaurant Summer House & Stella Barra is selling its signature cookies as $1 cookie dough balls, baking instructions included.

Chicago tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash is selling ornate tiki mugs, cocktail kits, housemade syrups, fresh-squeezed juices and bottles of rum for socially distant entertaining.

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