McDonald's Considers Closure of Dining Rooms as COVID Surges

    Seventy percent of dining rooms reopened as of late July. 

    Fast Food | August 30, 2021 | Ben Coley
    McDonald's exterior.
    Adobe Stock
    McDonald's previously targeted Labor Day to reopen nearly 100 percent of dining rooms across its U.S. system.

    McDonald's is informing franchisees on how to re-close their dining rooms amid the growing spread of the Delta variant, according to Reuters

    Like most quick-service chains, the fast-food giant shut down indoor dining at most U.S. locations last year, but 70 percent reopened by the end of last month. CEO Chris Kempczinski told analysts on July 28 that barring resurgences, U.S. dining rooms would be nearly 100 percent open by Labor Day. Plans have shifted since that time with COVID cases skyrocketing across the U.S. On July 28, the seven-day moving average for cases was 70,684, but on Friday, the average was 147,030, according to the CDC. As of Monday morning, 52.4 percent of Americans were fully vaccinated and 61.7 percent had received at least one dose. 

    In a conference call, executives told franchisees to consider closing dining rooms in counties where COVID cases exceed 250 per 100,00 people on a rolling three-week average, Reuters reported. The media outlet said McDonald's didn't specify how many locations have closed dining rooms or could in the future, but the number is projected to be fewer than spring of 2020. 

    "We’re monitoring the impact of the Delta variant closely and recently convened together with our franchisees to underscore existing safety protocols, reinforce our people first approach and provide updates on the rise in cases in the country," McDonald's said in a statement.

    The news comes a few weeks after the chain decided to reimplement mask mandates for customers and employees—regardless of vaccination status—in areas of high or substantial transmission. 

    Throughout the pandemic, McDonald's has proven its ability to pivot away from dine-in sales. Digital systemwide sales across its top six markets reached nearly $8 billion in the first half of 2021—a 70 percent increase versus last year. In late July, the brand had more than 22 million active MyMcDonald's app users in the U.S. and more than 12 million had joined the loyalty program prior to national advertising. Because of the strength of drive-thru and delivery, U.S. same-store sales lifted 14.9 percent on a two-year basis in the second quarter. 

    Despite that off-premises growth, Kempczinski described the dining experience as "an important part of what we offer at McDonald's." CFO Kevin Ozan added that even though dine-in sales haven't returned to what they were pre-pandemic, they have helped relieve some of the pressure in the drive-thru. 

    But, as McDonald's USA President Joe Erlinger said on a conference call recently, "As much as we want to be done with COVID, we must accept that COVID isn’t done with us."

    "For the first time since February, the U.S. is averaging more than 130,000 new cases a day," Erlinger said. "What’s different for us is that we have a much deeper sense of what actions make a difference for the safety of our restaurant teams and crew."