When coffee shops, restaurants reopen in-person dining, expect changes to self-serve elements

BOSTON — Even if you’re the only one who can fix your coffee just right, the exact amounts of cream and sugar in your cup might be in the hands of someone else for a while once coffee shops and restaurants reopen in-person dining during phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.

Creamers on the counter, self-serve coffee pots and touchscreen ordering kiosks, once seen as potential conveniences, are now seen as high touchpoints during the age of COVID-19.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has not yet released specific guidance for what in-person dining will be permitted to look like once the state reaches phase 2, but restaurants are looking at the experiences of other states to start preparing their options, said David Peterman, president of PR Restaurants LLC, which operates 61 Panera Bread franchises in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

“It’s difficult in a high-contact personal business that involves lots of customers coming in daily to be doing well in this difficult time with Covid,” Peterman said. “In the case of seating in the dining room, we’ve already scoped out in advance every one of our dining rooms to determine what the optimal floor plan will look like with 25% seating or 50%t seating, all socially distanced to a minimum of 6 feet between where customers might sit.”

As for reducing customer touchpoints, Peterman said Panera Bread will be making various modifications. The coffee urns, which are normally out in the café and self-serve, will be moved behind the counter, as will the creamers and sweeteners.

Touchscreen kiosks, however, will remain in use with modifications. Peterman said every other touchscreen will be roped off to encourage social distancing, each covered with an antimicrobial cover, and workers will clean the screens at least every 30 minutes. Hand sanitizer will also be placed next to each screen for customer use, he said.

Boston 25 News also reached out to Dunkin’ Brands and Starbucks, two of the most popular coffee shops in New England.

Starbucks did not respond specifically to inquiries about the future of creamers or other self-serve elements in the café, but directed Boston 25 News to a statement from the company CEO and president, Kevin Johnson, about safety efforts.

“Pre-COVID-19, more than 80 percent of customer orders in the U.S. were for ‘on the go’ — through the drive-thru, in a café at point-of-sale or through Mobile Order for pickup or delivery. That means the majority of Starbucks customers are already familiar with the safe, convenient experiences that are now called for by physical distancing recommendations,” Johnson wrote.

Dunkin’ Brands has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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