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RBI’s Strong COVID-19 Response Leans on Digital Platform


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Restaurant Brands International Inc. (RBI) has leaned into its digital capabilities, “adding hundreds of new restaurants onto delivery apps and improving our drive-thru experience, expanding mobile order and pay and curbside pick-up options so that we are both quick and increasingly contactless,” said Jose Cil, CEO of the global parent company of Popeye’s, Tim Hortons and Burger King, in a May 12 open letter.  

“There has never been a better time to embrace a business model that serves tens of millions of people a day with speed and limited contact.”

In a recent earnings call with analysts, Cil shared how the global company was able to take its learnings from its Asian operations and apply them to North America. In early March, dining rooms were shuttered to dine-in customers, social distancing measures were applied to front and back of house, restaurant health and safety protocols were reviewed and cleaning procedures, in consultation with health experts and medical professionals, were expanded. Masks, gloves and contactless procedures were mandated locations across brands.  Brand and operations teams are currently evaluating more comfortable and reusable masks that may become part of the brands’ standard uniforms.

"We have fully embraced the notion that parts of our restaurants need to change – certainly, for the foreseeable future and possibly forever," Cil stated.

Taking a cue from its Asian counterparts, all North American locations take the team members’ temps before the start of each shift.  It “is one good example of something we learned from our colleagues in Asia where they are a couple months ahead of us and have learned how to safely reopen dining rooms while giving comfort to our guests,” he added.


Rapid Rollout of Off-Prem

In recent weeks, RBI has been ramping up its off-premises channels across its brands. 

  • Tim Hortons ramped up delivery rapidly, going from about 250 locations to more than 1,000 locations across Canada in about 8 weeks.
  • After an accelerated roll out, now more than 5,000 Burger King US locations offer delivery. Drive-thru sales now up above 15% year over year and have been positive since the second week of April.
  • Popeye’s comparable delivery sales are up in the triple digits year-over-year and system-wide sales growth is up 32% led by the brand’s wildly popular chicken sandwich.

"We are fortunate to have drive-thru, take-out, mobile order and payment, curbside and delivery options in many of our restaurants that have allowed us to be a safe, trusted and convenient choice for millions of guests who have had to change their routines or stay at home in these extraordinary times,” said  Cil in an earnings call with analysts. 

The groundwork our technology teams have put in place over the last two years allowed us to rapidly accelerate valuable improvements to our loyalty, CRM and mobile app platforms that ultimately improve guest engagement and differentiate our iconic brands."

In March, RBI pivoted its marketing and advertising, replacing spots that emphasize price points and promotions with messaging around the benefits of its off-premise business model -- for example, delivery through its own app and through third-party delivery partners, plus the availability of its drive-thrus. “In this environment, a drive-thru window is a great option for so many people who want to limit physical contact," Cil said.  "And from guests that can’t access our drive-thrus, we are rolling out new curbside pickup options on our mobile apps in North America.

Technology, Cil explained, “has emerged as a critical differentiator in enabling delivery which has also contributed substantially to the improvement in sales.

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Tim Hortons ramped up delivery rapidly, going from about 250 locations to more than 1,000 locations across Canada in about 8 weeks.
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