In what might end up the first major fast-food domino to fall, McDonald’s Wednesday announced plans to pause U.S. dine-in reopening for three weeks. This as cases spike nationwide and states continue to roll back recovery efforts.

By mid-June, roughly 1,000 of McDonald’s 13,800 domestic locations reopened dining rooms with limited seating. According to the Chicago Tribune, about 2,200 dining rooms, or 15 percent of McDonald’s domestic system, are open today.

In a note to franchisees Wednesday, McDonald’s said operators who already reopened dining rooms are not mandated to back-track if local officials don’t require it.

U.S. division head Joe Erlinger and Mark Salebra, chair of the National Franchise Leadership Alliance, said the final decision would be made by franchisees in those situations.

McDonald’s noted a 65 percent increase in infections across America over the last two weeks and higher cases in 32 states over the last seven days. On Tuesday, the day before the letter went out, the country reported its sixth consecutive day where the average number of new COVID-19 cases topped previous April highs.


McDonald’s added in the note it would “continue to monitor the situation and adjust as needed to protect the safety of our employees and customers.”

It also stressed to franchises to remain prudent about wearing masks and checking employee temperatures, among other company safety protocols.

In McDonald’s 59-page dine-in reopening guide, the company asked operators to clean bathrooms every 30 minutes and digital kiosks after every order. It also suggested restaurants close public soda fountains or deploy staff members to monitor them, per The Wall Street Journal.

Additionally, there are new purchasing recommendations, like foot-pulls to allow customers to open bathrooms without using their hands. It listed automatic towel dispensers and touchless sinks as options, too. Employees are required to wear masks and gloves and restaurants to make face shields available for customers in jurisdictions requiring them.

McDonald’s has faced some difficultly enforcing these coronavirus-fueled changes. An Illinois court issued a preliminary injunction against McDonald’s last week, ruling that select franchisees weren’t doing enough to protect employees. It ordered three restaurants in Chicago to improve safety training and provide stricter rules enforcement. McDonald’s Corporate and McDonald’s USA were not enjoined in the case because they didn’t own any of the restaurants at issue in the suit.

Five McDonald’s employees and family members filed the suit May 19. Judge Eve Reilly of Cook County Circuit Court wrote it “may very well be a matter of life or death to individuals who come in contact with these restaurants or employees of these restaurants on a regular, or even semi-regular basis, during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She said McDonald’s took proper steps to prevent coronavirus, but did not train employees correctly at these spots with social distancing and failed to enforce its own mask wearing policy.

McDonald’s made the call to pause dining-room service ahead of the July 4th holiday as states nationwide do the same. California shut down bars and halted indoor dining at restaurants in 19 counties. Arizona closed water parks and mandated bars, gyms, and movie theaters to close for 30 days. New York City, Philadelphia, and New Jersey paused indoor dining indefinitely. Texas and Florida rolled backed to 50 percent capacity from 75 for restaurants, and closed bars. Indiana Wednesday said it would keep capacity limits in place for restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.

The world’s top-earner in fast food should be able to weather the disruption. In June, McDonald’s said 95 percent of its restaurants globally were open, serving off-premises business via drive thru, delivery, and/or take-away with a limited menu. Only 100 or so were shuttered domestically due to unique sites, like malls.

The chain’s U.S. same-store sales declined 19.2 percent in April and just 5.1 percent in May.  

Back in March, which feels years ago, Starbucks announced on a Sunday (March 15) it stopped all seating, including café and patios, throughout U.S. and Canada restaurants. This as a slew of states began to pause dine-in service in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

It carries a familiar vibe to what’s happening today. Just that week alone, Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, Noodles & Company, Inspire Brands, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Dunkin’, and KFC followed suit, among others.

Fast Food, Story, McDonald's