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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The dining room at McDonalds's on Ringgold Road is closed, but the drive through remains open. Dine in restaurants have gone exclusively to take out and drive through because of the Coronavirus. These locations were photographed on March 20, 2020.

Major fast-food chains are not rushing to take advantage of the lifting of restrictions on their indoor seating in Tennessee and Georgia with most major chains sticking to only takeout or drive-through service, at least for now.

"With the number of cases (of COVID-19) we've seen, we're very cautious in our approach to reopening," said Nicole Moorshead, vice president of marketing for J&S Restaurants, Inc. in Cleveland, Tennessee which operates 43 Hardee's restaurants in the Mid-South region. Hardee's has no immediate plans to restoring indoor seating and has reopened only 30 of its Hardee's units in the region for drive through service so far.

McDonald's, the nation's biggest restaurant chain, also is not immediately opening its restaurants for indoor seating, although the company continues to do a brisk business through its drive-through, delivery and take-out operations.

"Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our people and customers, which guides our decision making," McDonald's said in a statement. "This is not a race. As states ease restrictions, we will move thoughtfully and judiciously to make changes to our operations in collaboration with our franchisees, when McDonald's is ready."

Wen Choo Choo, the franchisee for 11 local Wendy's restaurants, also is maintaining only drive-through and delivery business, at least for another week, while it assesses the new guidelines in the "Tennessee Pledge" in Tennessee and the state orders for Georgia restaurants to open with indoor seating.

According to a state executive orders and guidelines in Georgia and Tennessee, restaurants can accept dine-in customers provided they follow more than 30 guidelines such as limiting guests to 10 patrons per 500-square-feet of space.

Chick-Fil-A, which has 260 restaurants in Georgia and 96 outlets in Tennessee, also said it is taking "additional time" to reopen its dining rooms in states that are starting to ease business restrictions.

"Safe service is our top priority," the company said in a statement. "As some states begin to ease restrictions on the closure of local businesses, we are going to take additional time to review our operations and ensure we have necessary precautions in place to protect our guests and team members before we reopen our dining rooms."

Fast-food restaurants are often able to generate as much as 70% of their sales from drive through windows, even before the coronavirus raised concerns about people gathering in groups such as in a restaurant setting. At the same time, many consumers remain wary of dining in at local restaurants. A nationwide survey by Gallup found that nearly 80% of Americans said they would wait to return to normal daily activities even after restrictions are lifted.

The National Restaurant Association, which estimates U.S. restaurants will have already lost nearly $80 billion and could lose $225 billion if restaurants remain closed for 90 days, established recommended standards for reopening restaurants last week to limit the spread of COVID-19. The 10-page guide was developed with input from the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency. It lists a variety of recommendations such as sanitizing tabletops between seatings, discarding single-use items like paper menus and installing sneeze guards along buffet bars.

"Adding to current best practices is an approachable way for owners and managers to put the modified protocols into practice as state and local officials begin to open communities," Sherman Brown, executive vice president, training and certification, said in a statement.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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