Fast Food Dining During COVID-19

One of the questions I had when we embarked on our Road Trip to D.C. and beyond, was how would dining at Fast Food restaurants during the COVID-19 Pandemic be? While I don’t normally eat a lot of Fast Food, on the road, sometimes it’s your only choice. The first place we stopped, while still in Florida, was one of our favorite Turnpike restaurants- Cracker Barrel. The parking lot didn’t look very full, so we were hopeful, although there’s often a wait for Cracker Barrel, even in the best of times.

We entered, went to the hostess stand and put our names down. It was a twenty minute wait. That part didn’t bother me, but the Gift Shop was packed with people, like flies swarming around honey over Christian C.D.’s, Garden Gnomes and Old Fashioned candies. After a couple minutes, we decided to bag it and hopped in the car to find another alternative. Being in a crowded restaurant and dining inside didn’t feel safe to us and we wanted to get to our destination ASAP. We decided on Chick-Fil-A, even though there was a long line. Chick-Fil-A was not business as usual. Instead of pulling up to the drive through to order, pay and pick up, there were Chick-Fil-A employees out in the parking lot, with menu signs attached to their bodies, like an old-timey advertising board.

The woman who came to our car, came to the driver’s side. I couldn’t even see the menu from the passenger side, so I just ordered what Lauren did- a Spicy Chicken Sandwich with Chick-Fil-A sauce. There were about three lines of cars waiting to order and the whole process took about 10 minutes, from ordering to getting our food. The next stop (still outside) was paying, which was a little cart set up outside, where we paid with a credit card. The last stop was getting our food, where a table was set up with handled paper bags. These were handed to us in person.

I’m not sure why Chick-Fil-A has modified their drive-through method. I can only guess they don’t want all their employees crowded inside together, because it didn’t seem like a more efficient method. My Chick-Fil-A spicy chicken sandwich was delicious, soft bun, crunchy chicken breast and we all snacked on Zeke’s waffle fries, which were good, although a little cold. They also neglected to put ketchup in the bag.

Chick-Fil-A Takeout Grade: B

The next day, driving from Charleston to D.C. we stopped at Panera for lunch. I love Panera because #1 I love soup and sandwiches and salads for lunch and #2 They list the calorie counts of their menu items, making it easy to make good choices. We ordered our lunch at the Drive-Thru, parked in a designated spot and our food was delivered to our car. The bag our lunch came in was sealed with a label, and Panera also offered the option to order online or in the Panera app. The inside was also open, but we opted to dine in the mini van. I got the You Pick Two with a half a Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken and a half a Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich (soup seemed too risky in the car). I was totally happy with my experience. We threw our garbage away right in the Panera parking lot can and were on the road again. Easy, breezy, satisfying and good.

Panera Takeout Grade: A

The take-out experience that seemed not to have changed at all was McDonalds, where we ate for breakfast twice on the road. Zeke and I both got Egg McMuffins, I got coffee, he got Iced Tea and we were on our way. What I like about McDonalds is that they put your cream right in your coffee, so you don’t have to mess around with it while driving. “Caution: Beverage Inside is Hot.” Our McMuffins were good and, overall, I was satisfied with our McDonald’s experience.

McDonalds Take Out Grade B+

On the way back to D.C., we stopped at a Turnpike Plaza to grab a quick lunch at Wendy’s. The line inside was very long and the place was packed. It gave me the heebee geebees, so we opted to leave after making a quick restroom pit stop. I ate cheese and crackers with an apple, for lunch, in the car. The moral of this story is: do what feels comfortable to you. Waiting in a crowded Cracker Barrel or in an endless line at a Turnpike Plaza, didn’t feel safe to us, so we pivoted to Plan B.

The last Fast Food place we dined at was Steak and Shake, home of the Original Steakburger and a favorite of my brother-in-law John’s. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten there before, but was impressed with how cheap it was! Like a burger and milkshake for $4. I ordered a Steakburger and it was hot, tasty and brimming with the extra pickles I’d requested (most places skimp on the pickles). The Drive-Thru experience was just a normal one- order, pay and pick up your sealed sacks of burgers at the end; I would definitely return to Steak and Shake. They also offer the option of Car Hop Dining, where you can park in a designated spot, open the Steak and Shake app, order and your order is brought to your car. They also list the calorie counts of menu items, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on what you order.

Steak and Shake Take Out Grade: A

Up Next: The Death of Rituals in the Time of Pandemic

Published by gleeguilford

Born and raised in Miami, the daughter of a pilot and stay-at-home Mom, I love food in all forms. My great grandfather opened the first Italian restaurant in Miami in the 20's, The Boathouse on the Miami river. I love exploring my heritage and linking food and recipes to personal stories. I've been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love and wrote restaurant reviews and news as the Miami Dining Examiner for three years. I love exploring Miami's latest hot spots, hole in the walls and institutions. I'm always looking for innovative ways to use the plethora of tropical fruits and vegetables South Florida offers, especially from my own garden.

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