Dunkin’ adapts as coronavirus-era customers find new uses for the restaurants

Doughnut kits and late-morning treats appeal to guests during pandemic


Bret Thorn, Nation's Restaurant News 

May 20, 2020


“America runs on Dunkin’” has long been a tagline for the quick-service chain that for decades has fueled its customers with smooth, consistent cups of coffee in the morning, along with doughnuts, muffins and the occasional breakfast sandwich.


But much of America isn’t in any particular rush at the moment. With many people out of work, and many others working from home as we endure the coronavirus pandemic, that morning rush-hour commute that was Dunkin’s bread and butter isn’t happening.


So the chain of more than 9,600 restaurants across the country is adapting to its guests’ new needs, and president Scott Murphy said he’s optimistic about the summer.


“I think we’re in relatively good shape,” he said.


At the end of April, 1,000-1,200 of the domestic units had closed completely, including 300 locations in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic and a city without drive-thrus. But now 93% to 94% of restaurants are open for takeout, drive-thru, delivery and curbside pickup (a new option for the chain) but none of them are open for dine-in yet.


“There’s a lot of noise around the industry about allowing dine-in,”  Murphy said. “The good news for us [is that] the bulk of our business was takeaway anyway, pre-COVID.” In fact, even with the collapse of morning traffic, Dunkin’ same-store sales at their lowest were down by around 30%, and they’re back up to a decline of 20%-25%.


Murphy said that for most franchisees, that’s well above the break-even point. He said that, depending on their debt structure, the terms of their lease and other factors, most franchisees, if they got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, “could probably survive and still be profitable at, call it down 50%, but that’s an average store and there are people on either side of that.”


He said they might open a few dining rooms in June in states with fewer restrictions, “but we’re doing it very cautiously, and deliberatively.”


Their approach would be to open a handful of stores and monitor them for a couple of weeks, talking to customers and crew members, “to make sure both groups feel safe doing this,” Murphy said. “We’ve got our food-safety experts teed up. We’re using a lot of Facetime video, watching stuff and monitoring to make sure that we’re adhering to all those [safety] standards.”


That includes social distancing, following the new cleaning protocols, making sure the plexiglass barriers in front of the cashier are holding up and crew members are using gloves and masks properly.


“It is a lot of work for these crew members,” Murphy said. “My heart goes out to them because we’re changing a lot of what they do, and it’s a big responsibility.”


There’s also a question of whether it makes financial sense to allow seating in dining rooms.


With requirements that customers have to stay six feet apart, that might mean...