Off The Menu: Fast food restaurants adjusting to business during pandemic – MassLive.com

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With deep pockets and plenty of operational expertise, the dining-away-from-home industry’s multinational brands will have a major influence on how restaurants do business in the months and years ahead.

In a recent interview with “Nation’s Restaurant News,” Mark King, the CEO of Taco Bell, went into depth about how Taco Bell and its corporate parent, Yum Brands, are reacting to the pandemic.

One advantage Taco Bell has going forward is the brand’s experiences with its customers in China, where restaurants have reopened under social distance protocols.

According to King, Yum Brands has learned that consumers are predominantly concerned about safety, and that restaurants, through both word and deed, have to convince patrons that it’s “safe” to return. Doing so requires extensive and carefully executed sanitation protocols as well as concentrated messaging that emphasizes the chain’s commitment to no-risk customer experience.

Taco Bell is also not, according to King, in any rush to reopen dining rooms here in the U.S. It has the luxury of taking its time in that area, since the brand’s business model has always relied heavily on takeout and drive-through.

Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp. is also using its experiences in overseas markets to guide its ongoing response to the pandemic.

In the Dutch city of Arnhem, the burger giant has renovated a McDonald’s outlet into a facility that can operate in a manner that maintains standards of social distancing.

Modifications at this prototype include handwashing stations at the entrance, designated waiting zones for customers, and delivery carts that bring dining room guests their orders.

Such new restaurants layouts are expected, according to a spokesperson from McDonald’s Netherlands, to have an operational capacity that would equivalent to about two-thirds of that of a typical pre-pandemic McDonald’s location.

As first days and then weeks of pandemic-mandated shutdown have turned into months, some restaurant operators who originally closed down all together have now turned the lights back on and partially reopened, offering food for off-premises enjoyment.

Chicago Sam’s Sports Bar and Grille in Enfield is one such independently-owned eatery. Owner-operator Philip Frogameni recently launched a take-out/curbside pickup program.

The menu focuses on “handhelds” like a classic burger, a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, and a variety of wraps. Wings are featured, as are mac ‘n’ cheese variations .

“Family Style” dinner packs, which serve four and include a house salad, vegetable and mashed potato, are assembled around main dish options like grilled chicken, steak tips, and turkey tips.

Takeout hours are Wednesday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; on weekends Chicago Sam’s operates from noon until 8 p.m. Online ordering is available at chicagosamsenfield.com, and the restaurant has also partnered with third party delivery service DoorDash.

Chicago Sam’s Sports Bar and Grille answers at (860) 741-2936.

Despite the sometimes devasting impact that stay-at-home orders have had for restaurant chains, some continue to develop and promote new menu options.

Chipotle Mexican Grill locations have begun assembling new “lifestyle bowls” that it has developed with input from five social media “wellness influencers.

The new bowl combinations include a Chris Brickley Bowl, a high profile fitness coach to a number of NBA stars. The Brickley bowl features a bed of brown rice and is garnished with chicken meat, tomato, salad greens, cheese, and more.

There’s also a Dr. Mark Hyman Salad that that takes its name from the best-selling author of “The Blood Sugar Solution”. The salad includes romaine lettuce, baby kale, brown rice, black beans, and chicken.

Three other custom-curated bowls are also a part of Chipotle’s lifestyle bowl series.

Denny’s, the casual dining coffeeshop chain, has expanded its selection of meal kits to include four additional take-home possibilities.

A Slow-Cooked Pot Roast Meal Kit include prepared and ready-to-heat pot roast, potato, broccoli, rolls, and garlic spread; the kit serves from six to eight.

There’s a new dessert option in the form of an Apple Crisp Dessert Kit that incorporates an oven-ready tray of apple crisp, vanilla ice cream, and salted caramel sauce.

The brand is also operating Denny’s Markets at selected restaurant locations. This “market option” offers selected grocery items for pickup and delivery.

Though Dunkin’ locations had originally trimmed their menus when the chain was refocused on drive-through back in March, two new savory items have joined the menu – a Three Cheese Croissant Stuffer and a Chicken, Bacon, & Cheese Croissant Stuffer. Both sandwiches carry a suggested $3.49 price tag.

Dunkin’ is also featuring a limited-time-only coffee blend flavored with butter pecan and sweet cream essences. The flavor is available in a variety of sizes and drink combinations.

Teresa’s Restaurant in Ware celebrated its 40th anniversary this month. Opened in early May 1980 by Alfonso and Teresa Ferrentino, the restaurant is now operated by their four sons, Frank, Mario, Joe, and Claudio, who celebrated the occasion with social media postings that thanked their loyal employees and customers

Teresa’s Restaurant is currently open for take-out and delivery; they answer at (413) 967-7601

The Steaming Tender Restaurant in Palmer has been spending the past several weeks giving its 19th century railroad station home some maintenance and restoration.

Projects completed include repairs to worn sections of the waiting room’s wood floors, a new mosaic tile treatment for the bar, and refurbishment of the antique Ferris wheel seats in the dining room.

The 1915 Porter steam locomotive that’s on display in the restaurant’s parking area has also been given a fresh coat of black paint.

On May 15, Steaming Tender will begin offering curbside pickup, a service that will be available Fridays between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Menu information will be available at the restaurant’s social media outpost, facebook.com/SteamingTenderRestaurant/.

Steaming Tender also answers at (413) 283-5010.

Chef-owner Andrew Brow, who operates HighBrow Wood-fired Kitchen + Bar in Northampton, has been doing all the right things and more to keep his business viable during the current stay-at-home situation.

In addition to promoting takeout service from his Crafts Avenue location, Brow has been partnering with local businesses in providing meals to “front line” workers. Recent efforts have included a large-scale delivery effort to the Holyoke Soldiers Home, a donation funded by Springfield-based New Valley Bank and Trust.

Other charitable business builders have included the delivery of taco lunches to public safety workers in Northampton and Easthampton, with LashCo Tree Service of South Hadley as the sponsoring donor.

Brow also capitalized on the Mother’s Day holiday by teaming up with a local florist, HelloLucyBlooms, to offer floral bouquets for pickup along with food orders.

For Cinco de Mayo he promoted the restaurant’s own bottled margarita mix as a take-out add-on.

HighBrow’s to-go menu focuses on gourmet, wood-fired “hearth pies,” but also offers options such as grilled salmon, peppercorn-encrusted NY strip steak, and mac ‘n’ cheese.

The restaurant is currently open for takeout nightly from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and answers at (413) 586-1468. Online ordering is available at highbrowrestaurant.com.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has nearly 45 years of restaurant and educational experience. Robert can be reached on-line at [email protected]

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