JERICHO, NY. – Nathan’s Famous has a plan to reopen more than 300 restaurants in a bid to recover from the economic challenges brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

James Walker, senior vice president of Nathan’s Famous Restaurants, said the company’s franchisees have been impacted by COVID-19, but they haven’t all been impacted or affected in the same way. This has led the company to adopt a more personal, one-on-one approach to communicating the reopening strategy to franchisees.

As a start, the company rewrote its mission statement to serve the “flavor of New York” to include a focus on “health, hygiene, and safety” of guests and employees. Their focus then turned to guidance provided by local authorities in the communities where Nathan’s Famous restaurants operate.

“We use the local, and federal reopening guidelines as a starting point, and then look to how we can improve upon those,” Walker said. “While we’re anxious to reopen, we will only do so when we are comfortable that our guests and employee’s safety and comfort is assured.”

Next, the company continued initiatives already underway before the pandemic, including updates around technology, menu and off-premises services. Additionally, the company made physical updates to restaurants.

“In our corporate locations we were quick to add plexiglass partitions to separate employees and guests, added social distancing stickers, and sanitizer stations,” Walker said. “We have instituted employee procedures including face masks, pre-shift temperature checks, and additional access to PPE.”

More than 700 million Nathan’s Famous hot dogs were sold through the company’s restaurant system, foodservice sales program and product licensing business in 2019. Although Nathan’s growth slowed during the early weeks of stay-at-home orders, the company recently has seen an uptick in interest in the brand.

And, as consumers prepare for summer cookouts, hot dog sales in general have seen double-digit jumps. According to data from IRI and San Antonio-based 210 Analytics, hot dog sales patterns were very similar to those seen for total meat during the week ended May 31.

“Hot dog dollar sales accelerated versus the week prior, at +11.4% versus the same week last year. This means hot dogs have seen double or triple-digit gains for 12 out of the most recent 13 weeks,” IRI said.

Walker said Nathan’s has benefited from increased interest in hot dogs.

“I think we’ve been benefiting greatly,” he said. “Nathan’s Famous is known for a best in class hot dog, and other craveable American comfort food like our NY Cheesesteak with Pat LaFrieda. Guests want the food they know and love, food that tastes great, from a brand they know and trust, and Nathan’s provides all of those conveniently.”

Before the pandemic, Walker said, quality, value and convenience drove consumers’ choices of which brands to frequent. Now, “trust and safety” will be added to customers’ decision-making criteria.

“I believe QSR will rebound most quickly, and those brands that focus on the ‘health, hygiene, and safety’ of their guests and employees will build both trust and sales,” Walker said.