Some Fast Food Chains Are Welcoming Back Diners. Here's What to Expect.

Eating at restaurants will look a lot different, and fast food restaurants are no exception.

Dmitry Feoktistov/TASS/Getty Images

With stay-at-home mandates lifting or easing in some states, fast food restaurants are tasked with a new challenge: reopening dining rooms. But just because you might be able to actually visit your local Mickey D's soon, doesn't mean the experience will look or feel the same as it did pre-pandemic.

Industry giants McDonald's and Restaurant Brands International (RBI) -- the parent company behind Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons -- have divulged their plans for how dine-in will work as doors open. 

"We are now moving into the next phase of reopening dining rooms according to guidance from local authorities, RBI CEO Jose Cil said in an open letter this week. "We have fully embraced the notion that parts of our restaurants need to change -- certainly, for the foreseeable future and possibly forever."

The company is introducing a number of safety procedures for its trio of chains, including reusable masks as part of the employee uniform, acrylic shields, and contactless service. 

"We are maintaining a 'safe distance' rule in our dining rooms -- whether communities require it or not," Cil continued. "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." 

For McDonald's part, President Joe Erlinger said that roughly 50 process changes are underway in both the way restaurants will function and how restaurant crews will be trained. 

"We are building on the processes already in place such as wellness checks, social distancing floor stickers, protective barriers at order points, masks and gloves for employees with the addition of new procedures, and training for the reopening of dining rooms," Erlinger said on the company's website. "These will serve as a set of nationwide standards for operations across all 14,000 U.S. McDonald’s locations." 

An illustration accompanying the McDonald's exec statement indicated that there will be a "clear designation of available seating" and that sections will remain closed to maintain social distancing. Play areas will remain closed, increased sanitation will continue, and soda fountain procedures will be modified so there is minimized contact. Like Popeyes, Tim Hortons, and Burger King, employees will be required to wear face coverings and food will be dropped off right at tables in double-folded bags. 

"With adherence to these new procedures and guidance, as well as continuing to rely on guidance from CDC, state and local authorities, McDonald’s, in partnership with Owner/Operators will make reopening decisions that are right for the local communities and help ensure restaurant crew and customers feel safe and welcome," Erlinger said.

h/tFood & Wine

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.