Restaurant Roundup: With CDC Update, Dining’s Post-Pandemic Future Comes Into View


The CDC announced Thursday (May 13) that it is no longer necessary for fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors or out, except where required by “state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

This is good news for restaurants, as concerns about being in mask-less indoor environments may have continued to deter contagion-conscious consumers, even those who have been fully vaccinated, from eating in restaurant dining rooms. Recent PYMNTS data from our latest Delivering On Restaurant Rewards report, created in collaboration with Paytronix, found that 4 in 10 consumers’ primary pandemic worries pertain to their health, and that these consumers were more likely than those primarily concerned about the economic or social impacts of the pandemic to order in person from restaurants more often once they feel safe. Now, with the CDC’s trusted guidance assuring vaccinated Americans that they can feel safe indoors without masks, restaurants are likely to see consumers feeling more comfortable with in-restaurant dining.

“It’s like we reached a tipping point in terms of the weight of the evidence showing that these are profoundly effective vaccines, beyond our wildest dreams, and they’re really good at blocking transmission,” Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco specializing in infectious diseases, told NBC.

Granted, the effects of this update may be felt more in some markets than others. As NPR reports, many state legislatures had already lifted area mask mandates. Other states are waiting a short period before implementing the change. Meanwhile, several states — California, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey — and Washington, D.C. are reviewing the new CDC recommendations independently before updating local guidelines.

$28.6 Billion Relief Package Not Enough To Cover Restaurant Demand

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), the $28.6 billion allocated to restaurant aid in the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan pandemic stimulus package, has proved insufficient to cover the demand from applications received in the first nine days alone, the Small Business Administration (SBA) reported Wednesday (May 12).

In the days after applications opened May 3, the SBA received 266,000 applications from restaurants and bars, requesting more than $65 billion in aid, which is 127 percent more than the amount allocated.

The fund’s $28.6 billion will not even cover the first days’ requests from those the RRF is meant to prioritize in the first three weeks — restaurants owned by women, veterans, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The SBA has received 147,000 applications from these groups, totaling $29 billion in requested relief.

“Through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, SBA is helping thousands of restaurants and other food and beverage businesses across the country get the help they desperately need to recover and rebuild from this pandemic,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the SBA, said in the release. “The numbers show that we’ve been particularly successful at reaching the smallest restaurants and underserved communities that have struggled to access relief … We are making progress, but we have much more work to do as we continue reaching our underserved entrepreneurs.”

30 Percent Of Wendy’s New Locations Will Be Nontraditional Restaurants

In the first quarter of 2021, Wendy’s revenue grew 13.6 percent to $460.2 million, the company reported Wednesday (May 12). The digital business grew to account for 7.5 percent of sales in the quarter, lower than many of the restaurant chain’s competitors. For instance, in 2020, Yum Brands’ $17 billion digital salesrepresented more than 30 percent of total system sales, which surpassed $50 billion.

Now, Wendy’s is looking to accelerate its digital growth with new, digitally integrated restaurant designs.

“I think customers are telling us that they like that convenience, and as customer behaviors change, we need to change and evolve our designs,” Wendy’s Chief Development Officer Abigail Pringle said at a virtual press conference Wednesday, Restaurant Dive reports. “We have things like mobile ordering and curbside. We want to enhance our drive-thru experience, but also importantly, how do we enhance our delivery experience? And the driver’s need to have a convenient experience.”

Pringle shared that 30 percent of the chain’s 1,200 new locations will be non-traditional, including ghost kitchens, drive-thru only locations, modular outlets, container stores and more, reports QSR Web.

White Castle Guides Consumers Toward Digital Channels with LTO

As Wendy’s looks to store design to drive digital ordering, White Castle is taking a more immediate approach. On Saturday (May 15), the chain is giving out free sliders to members of its loyalty program, Craver Nation, the company announced Thursday (May 13). The offer, meant to celebrate the White Castle-created “National Slider Day,” is available to anyone who joins the program through May 15.

“National Slider Day gives us an opportunity to show our appreciation to the Craver Nation,” Jamie Richardson, vice president of marketing and public relations, said in a statement. “We are so grateful for their steadfast devotion to the Crave.”

Alongside this offer, available at White Castle locations, the company also announced a delivery deal — a buy-one, get-one-free offer for its Original Slider Combo, featuring four sliders, a small order of fries, and a soft drink, available on third-party aggregators, encouraging consumers to adopt White Castle’s online delivery channels.