Some restaurants pointed to continuing outbreaks of Covid-19 as a reason for keeping dining rooms closed. At McDonald’s US stores, “roughly 3,000 dining rooms remain closed in high-risk Covid areas as we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our customers,” company CFO Kevin Ozan said during an analyst call in late October.
Others have kept dining rooms closed because of a lack of staff. Restaurants and bars were short about 800,000 jobs as of October compared to February 2020, before the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. It may take some time before employment returns to its pre-pandemic level, if it ever does. Workers are still fleeing the industry. The quit rate for accommodation and food services hit 6.6% in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — more than double the overall 3% average.
Keeping dining rooms closed may not have that much of an impact right now.
“The vast majority of sales are going through drive-thru right now,” said Lauren Silberman, restaurant analyst at Credit Suisse. Because of that, short-staffed restaurants are prioritizing their drive-thrus over opening dining rooms, she noted.
And restaurants are betting that interest in drive-thru and other off-site options will continue in the future.
Smaller stores, bigger drive-thrus
Within fast food and fast casual chains, “you will see an increasing shift to even more convenient models,” said Silberman.
— CNN Business’ Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.