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May 12, 2020

Tim Hortons' parent says COVID-19 may change restaurants forever

We want Canadians to be comfortable to come back into our restaurants: RBI executive

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Restaurant Brands International Inc., the owner of Burger King and Tim Hortons, says the food-service industry needs to change “for the foreseeable future and possibly forever” after COVID-19.

In an open letter Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Jose Cil said his company is preparing to welcome diners back as some governments start to reopen their economies. One option being considered is “more comfortable and reusable masks that may become part of our standard uniforms.”

Restaurant Brands is increasing its digital ordering capabilities by adding its restaurants to smartphone apps, Cil said. He also noted that the company is making unspecified improvements to its drive thrus and adding curbside pickup service. Inside restaurants, it’s making sure customers are spaced out in all locations, regardless of local regulations.

Restaurants are struggling to adapt to the coronavirus outbreak that has disrupted daily life for much of the world and killed hundreds of thousands. While many have seen sales evaporate on mandatory closures and social distancing rules, there’s some evidence that consumers still want food they don’t have to make themselves -- under the right circumstances. Delivery-centric Papa John’s International Inc., for example, reported last week that April was the strongest sales month in the company’s history.

Restaurant Brands said that more than 95 per cent of its U.S. locations are serving food via delivery and drive thru. Its dining rooms, close to 1,000 of which are currently operating, are reopening on a rolling basis as allowed by local authorities.

Shares of Restaurant Brands rose two per cent to US$53.66 at 9:36 a.m. in New York. The stock has fallen 16 per cent this year.

--With assistance from Anne Cronin.