These days, sitting down to dine in a busy restaurant could put you in the hospital and make your whole family sick as well as the families at nearby tables — that is, if there were a restaurant that would serve you. The take-out-only approach is the logical way to keep restaurants open.
When the only service is take-out, only employees go into the building and the only contact with the customers is a brief minute when the customer picks up the meal. Spread of the coronavirus through random contact with strangers is minimized.
Fast food restaurants with drive-up windows are looking awfully smart. The drive-up window long ago streamlined the process of ordering, paying, and picking up a meal. Not only is it efficient, it helps protect the restaurant from burglars. It’s not perfect (alas, no restroom access), but it’s close.
The drive-up windows at banks are even better. My local bank is now drive-up only. On my last visit, I put my transaction into a plastic tube that was whisked through a pneumatic system to the teller and then whisked back to me. Through the thick glass I saw the teller spraying something and it looked like she was disinfecting my driver’s license. I wiped it off again when the packet was returned to me, using a paper towel dampened with Lysol that I had brought from home.
Maybe when we’re back to some kind of normal, researchers will study how effective these strategies have been in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Have fast food workers had fewer cases of the virus than grocery store clerks? I’ll bet they have. It will continue to matter, because this will not be over as soon as any of us wishes.
I wrote a few years ago about convenience stores. In response to the tragic murders of a few clerks, New Mexico adopted some of the nation’s most stringent convenience store safety rules. For stores open during graveyard shift, one security option is a bullet-resistant enclosure for the clerk. That enclosure is probably also a virus protector. I hope store owners who haven’t already done so are thinking about punching a hole in the wall to build a drive-up window with such an enclosure, with access to the all-important restrooms directly from outside, perhaps with automated locks controlled by the clerks.
Many grocery stores are offering curbside service as an option. Maybe more of them should consider closing the doors and offering curbside only, like the restaurants, at least for a few hours a day. That would ease the strain on staff and increase safety for concerned customers.
And it would be the safest way for other types of businesses to reopen when the state is ready. I’d encourage various kinds of retail businesses to consider how to adapt the curbside approach, for the health and safety of both their employees and their customers. It would also work for public libraries.
Ironically, New Mexico was infamous in the past for its drive-up liquor windows and I cannot help but acknowledge that. Those windows were outlawed in 1998 after a years’ long brutal political battle and after serving way too many drivers who were too drunk to walk into the store. But if the windows themselves still exist, perhaps they can be repurposed and put to good use.
Experts are warning that even if the virus spread is minimized this summer, there’s a serious possibility that it will be back in the fall. Building more curbside and drive-up delivery platforms is one way to prepare.
If only there were a safe way to use drive-up windows for haircuts. I’ve been trying to think how to make that work. So far, no luck.
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