A long queue of patrons running out the door of nearly every KFC has been a perennial Christmas sight in Japan, but COVID-19 social distancing rules that discourage lines and place strict conditions for dining-in are threatening the custom.

This year, KFC Holdings Japan, the domestic licenser of the Yum! Brands Inc. franchise, is nudging customers to order online and then pick up their chicken at a certain time, rather than forming up in the traditional queues.

The run-up to Christmas is the company's biggest sales week and it hopes the move will help maintain those revenues, which fell last year from a record, and let customers keep a tradition that stretches back to the 1970s.