For larger dine-in chains, the ever-changing patchwork of rules around dining poses a particular logistical challenge: How do you come up with a companywide approach when different locations are dealing with their own specific regulations?
New restrictions have been placed on indoor and outdoor dining, though they are far from uniform (no indoor dining in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, indoor dining curfews in New Jersey and Massachusetts, no restaurant dining at all in much of California).
Restaurants must work with local health departments that hand down specific guidance on measures that must be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Some require outdoor dining tents or structures that have no more than two walls to provide adequate ventilation. Others want three sides of tents to remain open.
Left with empty dining rooms, casual and upscale dining chains moved quickly to beef up or offer to-go options the first time around. They started curbside pickup and signed on with food delivery partners like DoorDash and Grubhub. Some states loosened liquor laws, allowing chains to offer alcoholic beverages for takeout. And when restaurants were allowed to serve diners again, with restrictions, many rented tents or opened up patios to create outdoor seating.
But chains saw uneven performance among their restaurants.
By the end of summer, Olive Garden restaurants were averaging $70,000 in sales per week. But sales at the chain’s superstar restaurant in Times Square in New York, which was offering only takeout during the summer, plummeted to $17,500 per week, down from roughly $288,000 per week, executives of Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille, told Wall Street analysts in September.