Travel plazas edge toward carryout and drive-thru food service

Drink station in truck stop

Travel plazas essential to truckers hauling critical freight during the coronavirus pandemic are balancing social distancing and serving hungry drivers and those wanting a shower.

With the suspension of federal hours-of-service regulations for critical medical and other cargo, independent travel plazas and those operated by Pilot and Flying J, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, and TravelCenters of America are operating as pit stops as well as for longer layovers.

TravelCenters on Monday closed the sit-down service areas of many of its Iron Skillet and Quaker Steak & Lube full-service restaurants. Carryout remained available. Quick-service restaurants like Subway were still available for drive-thru service.

Love’s, which planned to switch to carryout and drive-thru food service only at 11 p.m. Monday, had developed COVID-19 protocols to preserve regular business, including increased cleaning and disinfecting efforts with a greater focus on handwashing for customers and employees via additional hand-sanitizing stations.

“We have always been committed to providing safe, clean and well-maintained stops that help get our drivers back on the road quickly, and we’ll continue to make that our priority,” Love’s spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said. ” We will make changes as needed for the health and safety of our customers and employees.”

Prepackaged condiments replace self-serve stations for ketchup, mustard and other fixings. Pilot and Love’s customers are being asked to use a new cup to get a drink or refill, and transfer liquid from a store cup to their personal cup or mug instead of filling it directly.

“In addition, we provide hand sanitizer dispensers for public use near the restrooms at our locations,” Campbell said.

TA-Petro locations temporarily suspended buffets, soup and salad bar offerings. A few locations remain open depending on state and local guidelines. The majority offer all menu items as to-go orders. Grab-and-go options are still available. California is restricting restaurant occupancy to 50% of capacity. Illinois prohibits inside restaurant pickup orders.

“We strongly believe this action is essential for your safety and the safety of all our team members, and we are extremely grateful for your understanding during this time,” TA wrote on its website.

TA also said it is taking extra precautions with what it called already strict cleaning protocols. Tables, menus, chairs, booths, counters, and all dishes, utensils and cooking surfaces are being cleaned more often with best-in-class, food-safe cleaners to disinfect and sanitize common touch points within the restaurants. 

For now, shower facilities that long-haul truckers reserve remain unaffected. Pilot said it is cleaning showers after each use with degreaser, disinfectant and floor cleaner, and washing guest towels separately from service towels after each use.

TA and Love’s shower services are operating as normal, spokeswomen for the two companies told FreightWaves.

“As the nation confronts the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s travel centers and truckstops are committed to remaining open and serving America’s drivers,” said Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO, the trade association representing America’s travel plaza and truckstop industry. “Our members are committed to doing their part.”