Fast-food companies in China step up ‘contactless’ pickup, delivery as coronavirus rages

NEW YORK / BEIJING (Reuters) – As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread in China, McDonald’s Corp, Starbucks Corp and other fast food companies are expanding “contactless” pickup and delivery services to help keep their employees and customers safe .

FILE PHOTO: A customer waits to collect her order in front of a KFC restaurant, where a table for contactless pickup of online orders is set up at the entrance as the country is affected by a novel coronavirus outbreak in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China February 14, 2020. cnsphoto about REUTERS

McDonald’s implemented contactless pickup and delivery of Big Macs, fries, and other menu items across China when the outbreak struck.

Customers order remotely – on cell phones or via in-store computers – and employees seal the meals in bags and place them in a special place for collection without human contact, according to McDonald’s on its website.

For delivery orders, the drivers drop off McDonald’s parcels at the building entrances, disinfect their delivery bags and wash their hands more often. Drivers carry ID cards showing that they – and the people who made and packaged their food – have their body temperature scanned to prove they don’t have a fever.

“As we consider how we can improve the process further, the increased prevention measures apply to all of our service channels,” McDonald’s said in a statement to Reuters.

The flu-like virus infected more than 68,500 people worldwide and killed 1,665 people on Sunday, mostly in central China’s Hubei Province. Some major Chinese cities still resemble ghost towns as China is struggling to get its economy back on its feet after a long New Year holiday.

In early February, according to BigOne Lab, a Beijing-based data company, 83% of all stores on the Meituan-Dianping delivery platform – one of the largest in the country – were closed.

Earlier this month, the Chinese National Health Commission recommended that shipments limit contact.

Starbucks suggests customers order coffee through the app and then wait outside the cafes to receive a pick-up notification. Orders are placed on tables just inside the café entrances.

When entering Starbucks locations, customers’ temperature is taken at the door as fever is one of the main symptoms of infection and baristas wear masks.

For the delivery, Starbucks said it regularly sterilizes containers and that the temperature of the deliverer is measured daily. Indoors, staff are required to wash their hands every 30 minutes, and public areas are sterilized every 2 hours.

Starbucks is supplied by ele.me, which belongs to e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. belongs.

The actions illustrate how companies are rapidly adapting to sell prepared food while keeping people safe.

Yum China Holdings Inc introduced contactless delivery on January 30th. Contactless collection takes place two days later at the KFC and Pizza Hut locations.

CHANGE HUMAN TRANSACTIONS

Before the crisis, there had been contactless delivery in China, with couriers dropping parcels at a consumer’s door or lobby, or putting parcels in lockers for later pickup.

Since the outbreak, many residential complexes have been restricting driver access and encouraging customers to collect their own packages.

In transactions where one person would previously have handed a package to the other, the driver now places the food – on the back of a moped, for example – and then steps back and waits for the customer to take it and leave.

For example, a customer asked a delivery person to put a package in the elevator and press the button for the specified floor. The customer grabbed the parcel when the doors opened – unaccompanied by the courier, according to a post in the social media account of CCTV News on Weibo, said Allison Malmsten, marketing strategy analyst at Daxue Consulting in Shanghai.

The outbreak “redefines contactless food delivery,” Malmsten said via email.

Since the outbreak began, Yum China has closed more than 30% of its locations. There have been “significant disruptions” with sales down as much as 50% since the New Year holiday, compared to the same time last year, CFO Ka Wai Yeung said in a February 5 notice for earnings.

The crisis has accelerated the rollout of Yum China’s contactless services in China, a statement said.

“These services have been well received by customers and play an important role in ensuring that our delivery business continues in this time of significantly reduced dine-in traffic,” it continues.

At the beginning of the epidemic, food delivery was severely impacted as news reports said customers feared contact with drivers would put them at risk of infection.

There have been cases in the cities of Shenzhen and Qingdao where couriers have been diagnosed with the virus after working for days.

However, there are limitations on companies’ reliance on pickup and delivery to make up for some losses.

Malmsten said many drivers are unable to return to work due to travel restrictions and those who can return are exposed to long hours and physical and mental fatigue. As a result, SF Express, the second largest courier in China, has been hiring more, she said.

Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York and Sophie Yu in Beijing; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Dan Grebler

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