How One Restaurant Safely Offers Curbside Pickup during COVID-19
Kyle Welch, president of Epic Burger, a fast casual better burger concept with eight locations in Chicago, has found himself in a position like so many other restauranteurs across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders; no more dining-in for guests, only take-out and delivery are allowed.
What the last couple weeks have proved, however, is that it’s not that simple to offer take-out (and even delivery) while also practicing social distancing and ensuring the highest levels of safety and sanitation for both staff and customers. In fact, some restaurants that began offering curbside pickup during the initial closures have since stopped those operations out of safety concerns. Chefs, managers and owners have to think about how they distance their workers, both in the kitchen and when it comes to handing-off food to guests for pick-up. For many, this means closing off most of the interior of the restaurant completely to guests, and instead, bringing food out to cars for curbside pickup. Some are also setting packages on tables (otherwise used for dine-in service) close to front door for contactless handoff.
“In Chicago and throughout the rest of the country, third -party delivery and take-out was one of the fastest growing avenues in our industry, and I think this crisis has only exponentially elevated that shift,” Welch says. “I believe this is something that will keep growing beyond the crisis because speed, efficiency and safety is a win-win for everyone.”
Welch says he had one major advantage in the quick pivot to curbside delivery; a large parking lot in front of the storefront of his Lincoln Park neighborhood location that has since seen little traffic because of the closures of the neighboring retail stores. Using that lot, his team set up a makeshift drive-in/drive-thru service (using orange cones to create lanes) whereby a staff member (wearing gloves and a mask) runs food out to the cars.
Here’s how Epic’s curbside pickup program works:
Ordering: customers are encouraged to place and pay for orders using the Epic Burger To Go smartphone app, and then to call ahead or relay the name on the order when pulling up to the drive-thru. The app allows customers to place orders for pick up “now” or “later.” There is also a notes section where customers can write in “curbside pickup.” If customers pull up in their cars and want to place an order with the staff member outside, they can do so (but the order taker will stand at a distance and use a tablet to enter the order).
Preparation: powered by Chowly, online orders from the app go directly to the kitchen make monitors without the need for any extra inputting steps. There are only two workers in the kitchen to ensure proper social distancing. All of the beverage cups, condiments, napkins and other self-service materials at the self-serve beverage stations have been removed to discourage anyone coming in to pick up food from serving themselves.
Sanitation: just before restaurants were ordered closed, Welch’s team ramped up handwashing reminders in the kitchen, setting a timer every 30 minutes when workers would call out, “handwashing!” and take turns washing their hands while singing Happy Birthday twice. Curbside delivery staff members wear gloves at all times and change them regularly. Epic Burger has also connected with janitorial partner Ecolab to upgrade cleaning, sanitation and disinfectant solutions used in the restaurant. Managers also take temperature readings as staff members arrive at work. Any employees showing symptoms of any sickness are asked to go home. There are now also hand sanitizer dispensers at the front door as well as at the counter (thought customers are discouraged from entering the restaurant).
Packaging: all to-go orders are double-bagged so customers can simply remove and discard the outer bag when they get home, preserving the untouched bag underneath. Burgers and fries are securely packaged in separate clamshell containers to prevent any potential cross-contamination. Tables in the dining room are being used for storing packaging goods and for holding to-go orders ready to be picked up by the curbside pickup attendant.
Delivery: Epic Burger continues to work with its third-party delivery partners GrubHub, Uber Eats and DoorDash, which have temporarily removed commission and delivery fees for restaurant customers. The pick-up process works the same way; through the makeshift drive-thru whether the delivery person arrives by bike or car.