COVID-19: Tim Horton’s And Family Reveal ‘New Normal’

Did you know that the same parent company owns Tim Horton’s, Popeye’s, and Burger King? All three of those restos are gearing up to reopen their dining rooms and the parent, Restaurant Brands International (RBI) yesterday posted an open letter outlining its planned precautions…

Cil and Schwartz at a Tim's Store - © 2019 RBIRBI Chef José Cil (centre) touring a Tim Horton’s outlet shortly
after his appointment as President of RBI

RBI will reopen its three chains for dine-in business as soon as it can implement a series of safety precautions outlined in an open letter penned May 12 by President José Cil addressed to investors and the media. According to the letter, the RBI restos are rolling our measures similar to those described last week in a McDonald’s statement about its reopening plans, in light of the recent easing by many US states of their COVID-19 lock down rules.

It’s all about ‘Confidence and Comfort’

“We are working very hard to continue to build your confidence in the measures we are taking to keep you safe in our restaurants – so you can more quickly return to a sense of comfort and normalcy in bringing your family inside to sit down for a mea,” Cil assures readers. And he proudly states that RBI has leveraged the extensive experience of its franchisees and brand mangers around the world to build its reopening plan.

“Our early decision to take the temperatures of all our team members at the start of each shift in North America is just one good example of something we learned from our colleagues in Asia where they are a couple months ahead of us and have learned how to safely reopen dining rooms while giving comfort to our guests.”

Cil makes a special effort to point out the intensive training that restaurant staff are undergoing in preparation for reopening under the new procedures and protocols.

“Our team members worldwide are participating in thorough, rigorous training to ensure that all of our health and safety protocols are well-known and implemented. But equally important, we are reminding all our team members that they play an important role in creating a dining atmosphere that gives you a safe, comfortable and welcoming space to gather with friends and families to enjoy time together over a meal.”

Separation for the nation…

Chief among RBI’s new rules, to which all locations that want to re-open for dine-in service must adhere, is the installation of clear plastic barriers between staff and customers at the order counter.

“We have acrylic shields and contactless service at most of our restaurants,” Cil’s letter states. “We are maintaining a ‘safe distance’ rule in our dining rooms – whether communities require it or not. We have designed beautiful tabletop signage to indicate which tables are open and which ones are reserved to help maintain safe distances. We will be sanitizing tables and chairs after each use and will have hand sanitizer available in the dining room for our guests. We have turned off our self-serve soda fountains and are offering beverages, extra condiments and trays from the behind the front counter. And we benefit from a business model inside our restaurants that has minimal contact with anyone other than your friends and family who you are sitting with.”

Wider measures, amped-up digital services

The letter also indicates that RBI restos, “have rapidly scaled our digital capabilities, including adding hundreds of new restaurants onto delivery apps and improving our drive-thru experience, expanding mobile order and pay and curbside pick-up options so that we are both quick and increasingly contactless in your guest experience.”

While the first restos to reopen across the US after the easing of lock down restrictions report that customers are not rushing back in for sit-down meals, RBI says it’s preparing to once again serve millions of patrons a day across its three chains. Cil repeatedly makes the point that his people are doing everything they can think of to ‘welcome back’ customers and regain their confidence.

To paraphrase the famous line from Field of Dreams… You can build it, but will they come?

The new normal?

Perhaps erring on the side of caution, RBI hints that the new procedures won’t be going away any time soon: “We have fully embraced the notion that parts of our restaurants need to change – certainly, for the foreseeable future and possibly forever. For instance, while we have mandated masks and gloves in the short-term, our brand and operations teams are now evaluating more comfortable and reusable masks that may become part of our standard uniforms.”

My take

One thing is certain: The big resto chains have fared much better through the COVID-19 crisis than regional chains or neighbourhood one-offs. And they will continue to thrive, with or without permanent masks and barriers, and contactless service. They have the resources to withstand long periods of closure and quasi-closure, where the little guys do not.

The US National Restaurant Association (NRA) represents the National Restaurant Association bills itself as, “the leading business association for the [US] restaurant industry, which comprises 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of 15.3 million employees.”

The NRA has reports that as many as 6 million jobs have been lost in the sector and up to 75 percent of independent restaurants that have closed will not re-open. That’s an employment disaster of the greatest magnitude. Furthermore, the NRA forecasts that the industry total COVID-19-related loss of more than (US)$240 billion nationwide by the end of the year. That’s a major chunk of the American economy that won’t come ‘charging’ or ‘surging’ back, as the Trump administration has insisted, after the reopening. Add to that other chunks of the service sector that will take time to recover – perhaps a year or two – and you get a really bleak picture form the months to come.

Organizations like the NRA are lobbying the US Federal Government (as is Restaurants Canada, here in the Great White North) for increased, specific financial aid for restaurants. And groups including Restaurant Relief Emergency Fund in the US and The Bartenders’ Benevolent Fund in Canada are frantically raising funds to help unemployed resto workers get by.

It’s up to us, as customers, to encourage small, independent restos in our neighbourhoods to reopen by letting them know we’ll be there to patronize them when they do.

~ Maggie J.