One of Seattle's fanciest restaurants turned into a drive-thru burger place amid the coronavirus outbreak - and restaurants around the country may soon take similar measures

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One of Seattle's fanciest restaurants turned into a drive-thru burger place amid the coronavirus outbreak - and restaurants around the country may soon take similar measures

Seattle Canlis burger drive-thru

Ashley Stewart/Business Insider

Seattle-based Canlis closed its dining room and opened a drive-through amid the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Canlis - an award-winning restaurant in Seattle that usually serves $135 four-course meals - closed its dining room and created a drive-thru in its parking lot to serve $14 burgers amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
  • Restaurants around the country could soon be forced to make similar arrangements as local governments order dining rooms to close.
  • My $14 burger tasted great, though the overall experience was a hassle. 
  • View more stories on Business Insider's homepage.

One of Seattle's fanciest restaurants has turned into a drive-thru burger place amid the novel coronavirus outbreak - and restaurants around the country could be forced to take similar measures as local governments order dining rooms to close.

Canlis - which typically serves four-course meals from a James Beard award-winning chef for $135 per person - closed its luxe dining room and started selling burgers through a makeshift drive-thru in its parking lot. 

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"Fine dining is not what Seattle needs right now," the restaurant's owners wrote on its website announcing the changes. "Instead, this is one idea for safely creating jobs for our employees while serving as much of our city as we can."

Abandoning menu items like rabbit sausage with grilled liver for burgers and veggie melts at lunch, Canlis also plans to offer bagels for breakfast and deliver "home-cooked" dinners and bottles of wine beginning Wednesday. Elsewhere in Seattle, other fine dining hotspots closed their doors entirely. 

Restaurants around the country could soon be forced to make similar arrangements. On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered restaurants - plus bars, coffee shops, and the like - to close on-site dining until March 31. New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have already rolled out comparable measures.

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I braved the lunchtime line on opening day. Here's what happened: 

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In place of its sprawling dining room with views of the water, Canlis hastily organized a drive-thru.

In place of its sprawling dining room with views of the water, Canlis hastily organized a drive-thru.

Here's what a Canlis experience would usually look like:

It wasn't the most convenient set up, in part because Canlis has what I imagine to be one of the worst spots in Seattle for a drive-thru restaurant.

It wasn't the most convenient set up, in part because Canlis has what I imagine to be one of the worst spots in Seattle for a drive-thru restaurant.

It's located along a six-lane stretch of a state highway that runs through the city, and it's the last turn before a long bridge. If you, say, happen to miss the turn because the back of the line isn't where you expected, doubling back means driving for miles.

The long line on Monday also ended up mixing with the highway on-ramp for a busy residential area – contributing to what was already a bottleneck – but people generally made it work.

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Once I made it into the parking lot, I found more lines.

Once I made it into the parking lot, I found more lines.

Employees guided customers into a series of shorter queues.

While I was waiting, I heard employees musing to each other that it was "the fanciest drive-thru in Seattle." No, "the fanciest drive-thru ever."

The food was inexpensive, considering what a Canlis meal usually costs.

The food was inexpensive, considering what a Canlis meal usually costs.

A meal at Canlis, the fine-dining restaurant, would set you back $135. At Canlis, the drive-thru, a burger and fries cost $14. The menu also offered a salad, veggie melt, or ice cream sandwich.

A more typical Canlis meal might include fried rabbit, dry aged ribeye, or sweet potato with yuzu sherbet:

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Employees kept their distance.

Employees kept their distance.

When I finally reached the front of the line, an employee took my order on a tablet. She held out a card reader and asked me to swipe my own card so we didn't make even indirect physical contact.

Customers mostly stayed in their cars.

Customers mostly stayed in their cars.

Customers practiced varying degrees of social distancing. For the most part, people stayed in their cars.

But with music blaring and the sun shining, it felt as close to a community gathering as we could get without coming within an unsafe distance of one another.

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Employees wore single-use gloves to deliver food.

Employees wore single-use gloves to deliver food.

Canlis requires every person who comes in contact with food to wear single-use gloves and change them with each "food exchange," its website says.

My order arrived about seven minutes after I placed it, passed through my window by a smiling Canlis worker.

My order arrived about seven minutes after I placed it, passed through my window by a smiling Canlis worker.

The turnaround felt quick considering the quality of the food.

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My burger was delicious, though the experience was a hassle overall.

My burger was delicious, though the experience was a hassle overall.

Canlis served me a very tasty burger. While I probably wouldn't go through the hassle under normal circumstances – the whole ordeal took 45 minutes just to eat in my car – the Canlis drive-thru felt like a good way to support a local business and workers in an uncertain time.