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Timeline: The impact of coronavirus on restaurants

As the outbreak continues to spread, restaurants have been forced to change operations, cancel gatherings and even close. Here's how things have unfolded.
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Photograph: Shutterstock

The coronavirus has spread rapidly around the world since its discovery in early January, impacting nearly every aspect of daily life, including restaurants. In an attempt to keep guests and staff safe as well as stabilize their business, the industry responded with operational changes, event cancellations and even store closures in some hard-hit areas. But as the situation has grown more dire, state and local governments have begun ordering widespread restaurant shutdowns. This story will be updated regularly with the latest events.

January

Jan. 7
Officials announce the discovery of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, China.

Jan. 20
The first case of the coronavirus is reported in the U.S.

Jan. 28
Starbucks says it has closed half of its 4,300 restaurants in China due to the outbreak.

February

Feb. 3
The National Restaurant Association issues recommendations for helping restaurants protect customers and staff from the coronavirus.

Feb. 6
Yum Brands says same-store sales in China are down 40%-50% compared to a year ago. The parent of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC closed more than 30% of its China locations starting in late January. 

Feb. 28
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California says business is down 50% in restaurants in her majority-Asian district outside of LA. Chinese restaurants across the country report similar problems, even though ethnicity is not a risk factor in spreading the virus. 

March

March 5
Starbucks says it expects to lose up to $430 million in revenue due to the coronavirus. Almost all of its stores in China are reopened as conditions begin to improve there.

In a survey by Technomic, 32% of consumers say they plan to eat at restaurants less often out of concern about the coronavirus.

March 6
McDonald’s cancels its worldwide convention scheduled for April in Orlando, Fla., instead planning to hold the meeting virtually.

March 7
Tim Hortons pulls 81 million cups designed for its annual Roll Up the Rim promotion.

March 9
Prompted by the coronavirus, Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants says it will provide paid sick leave to all hourly workers.

March 11
The World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease.
President Trump announces emergency measures, including emergency relief for hourly employees and low-interest Small Business Administration loans. 

March 12
A study by small business software company Womply finds that Chinese restaurant sales fell 1% since January after being up 13% year over year.

The stock market has its worst day since 1987, with restaurant stocks getting hit hard. But companies such as Del Taco and Starbucks report they have seen no impact on sales.

The James Beard Foundation postpones its annual awards, scheduled for May 4 in Chicago, to summer.

New York requires restaurants to cut their seating capacity in half as a protection against coronavirus.

March 13

Grubhub says it will drop commissions on the meals it delivers from independent restaurants.

President Trump declares a national emergency, pledging $50 billion in federal aid to help fight the coronavirus.

Restaurateur Danny Meyer temporarily closes all 19 of his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants in New York City.

OpenTable reports reservations were down 36% for the day on a year-over-year basis.

March 14

France and Spain order all restaurants to close down.

March 15

Puerto Rico requires establishments that sell alcoholic beverages to close daily at 6 p.m.

Ohio and Illinois order statewide restaurant and bar closures

Starbucks eliminates seating in all of its U.S. restaurants, moving to a takeout-only model.

The Federal Reserve cuts interest rates to nearly zero.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom calls for the closure of all bars, nightclubs and wineries in the state.

New York City, Washington and Massachusetts order restaurants to close for dine-in service.

Chick-fil-A suspends dine-in service, shifting to off-premise options only.

Los Angeles prohibits dine-in service at bars and restaurants.

March 16

Denny's acknowledges material impacts of the coronavirus on its business as restaurant stocks are hammered.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as Michigan and Kentucky, close dine-in business in all bars and restaurants.

President Trump asks Americans to avoid eating in restaurants, bars and food courts, and to forgo gatherings of more than 10 people. 

McDonald's suspends dine-in service in company-owned restaurants and encourages franchisees to do the same.

March 17

Dunkin’, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Golden Corral suspend dine-in service. 

More than two-thirds of restaurants (70%) say they have seen traffic declines as of March 13, according to Black Box Intelligence.

The Texas Restaurant Association reports that 25%-30% of independent restaurants in the state could close.

After speaking via telephone with the CEOs of major quick-service chains, President Trump and other White House officials advocate for drive-thrus as a key source of food for consumers. Officials also revealed plans to send checks to all Americans.

March 18

The National Restaurant Association predicts the industry could lose $225 billion in sales during the next three months, eliminating as many as 7 million industry jobs. In a letter to President Trump and members of Congress, it asks for $145 billion in direct relief payments to restaurants and foodservice facilities.

Congress passes an emergency relief bill entitling a large share of the restaurant employees sickened by COVID-19 to 10 days of paid leave. The measure applies to employers with fewer than 500 people on their payrolls.

A number of chains begin promoting delivery deals and other incentives to drive sales while many dining rooms are closed.

Subway reduces franchisees’ royalty dues by 50% and suspends ad funds for four weeks to help struggling franchisees.

March 2o

Starbucks says it will close access to its company-operated cafes and move to a drive-thru-only model, shuttering numerous locations around the country.

Darden Restaurants, the parent of Olive Garden and seven other casual-dining chains, discontinues dine-in service at all of its restaurants, in jurisdictions where table service is still permitted.

March 22

Starbucks says it will increase the rate it pays its employees over the next month. Employees who work their shifts through April 19 are eligible for Starbucks Service Pay, worth an additional $3 an hour.

March 23

Papa John’s and Pizza Hut are hiring amid increased demand for pizza delivery.

 March 24

The 2020 National Restaurant Association Show is canceled. It was set to be held May 16-19 in Chicago.

Yum Brands says the coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of about 7,000 restaurants around the world, including more than 1,000 Pizza Hut Express units in the U.S.

March 25

Technomic says restaurant sales could decline 11% to 27% in 2020 due to the coronavirus. It would be the industry’s worst year on record.

Cracker Barrel says it will not to rescue Punch Bowl Social from foreclosure, citing "substantial uncertainties" about the brand and the need to sustain its core business and Maple Street Biscuit Co. during the COVID-19 crisis.

Chef and restaurateur Floyd Cardoz, 59, dies of coronavirus infection.

Landry’s principal and CEO Tilman Fertitta tells Bloomberg that he has furloughed 40,000 employees across his casino and restaurant holdings, about 70% of his workforce.

Golden Corral closes all 35 of its company-operated restaurants and furloughs 2,290 employees.

March 26

The Senate passes a historic $2 trillion aid bill. It includes provisions to assist the restaurant industry.

More than 3 million people filed for unemployment benefits the week of March 16, the Labor Department says. The previous record for the most claims in one week was 695,000 in 1982. 

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