In the classic movie “Network,” fed-up TV viewers throw open a window to loudly declare they’re not going to accept life’s insanities anymore. Netflix must’ve had a special promotional code for restaurateurs this week, because you’d have thought the whole industry caught the flick on demand.
Operators threw down their order pads to stand nose to nose with adversaries and growl, “No more.” They were joined by a group you’d never have thought would grab a musket for the cause: restaurant employees.
It was part of a militancy that showed in other ways as well, like claiming a free ride on a Super Bowl-scale advertising opportunity.
Read on for details.
1. ‘No’ to wage hikes
Restaurant employers’ Bunker Hill may be Flagstaff, Ariz., where they and other small businesses are making a stand against further increases in the minimum wage, which currently stands at $10 an hour. Local officials held a meeting Tuesday to discuss holding a special ballot in May in hopes of reversing an earlier referendum that calls for raising the threshold to $15. The measure, according to residents, has divided the community, pitting neighbor against neighbor.
The city council decided against convening a special election, but kicked the ballot fight back just a few months, to the general election in November. Meanwhile, irate local business people are calling for a measure that would postpone a hike in the wage to $12 this year, per the ballot measure that passed in 2016. The delay would freeze the rate at $10, which was set in a statewide referendum.
Local coverage noted that extra seating had to be added for the meeting, where attendees were heated and determined. It was a far cry from the usual city council discussion of whether to repaint crosswalks.
2. A stake driven into drive-by lawsuits?
The industry notched a significant legislative victory on Wednesday when the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that discourages “ drive-by lawsuits” filed under of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The measure provides restaurants and other businesses accused of not fulfilling their ADA obligations with a time frame to fix the infraction.
The make-right component is expected to discourage the bounty hunters who literally drive up and down a restaurant row, making a list of businesses with the intent of sending each a letter warning they’re about to be sued. The expectation had been that places will settle instead of incurring significant legal costs. Now, with what’s called a cure period mixed into the process, the juice might not be worth the squeeze.
"This common sense legislation restores integrity to the ADA by improving access while simultaneously preventing well-meaning business owners from being victimized by abusive lawsuits," Cicely Simpson, EVP of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
The measure still needs to be passed by the Senate.
3. Employees arm for war
Full-service operators in Maine had a huge win last year when the industry succeeded in reinstating the tip credit. What turned the battle was the arrival of an unexpected cavalry: tipped employees.
When the tip credit was removed as the result of a 2016 ballot referendum, waiters and waitresses found their tips dropped like a rock. Patrons assumed the servers were now making a generous minimum wage, and a gratuity wasn’t necessary.
The service employees joined their employers in pushing lawmakers in early 2017 to reinstate the credit. That taste of success has led vets of the Maine battle to join with colleagues in other areas where discontinuing the tip credit has been proposed, such as in New York and Minneapolis. In January, they formed a nonprofit group, Restaurant Workers of America (RWA), with the mission of protecting the tip credit wherever it’s in place. The tipped army is already drafting plans to air its support for the credit in New York in coming weeks. (Look for a full story on the RWA Monday on RestaurantBusinessOnline.com.)
4. Geography lesson? Try a marketing opportunity
The graphics specialists for an ABC affiliate in Chicago pulled the sort of boneheaded move that will forever be memorialized in blooper tapes. Someone had apparently told a member of the team to create a backdrop for a report on the Olympics in Pyeongchang. The verbal instructions translated into a static background image of the Olympics logo, situated above the caption “P.F. Chang 2018.”
The restaurant chain Pyeongchang’s—er, P.F. Chang’s—seized the flub as an opportunity to capitalize on the public’s interest in its namesake Olympics. It offered a free order of Pyeongchang Lettuce Wraps on Thursday to anyone who ordered another entree on premise.
5. In other Chipotle news …
Arguably the biggest restaurant story of the week was the appointment of Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, effective March 5. The thunder over that change overshadowed a much smaller but still noteworthy publicity stunt by Chipotle, which isn’t known for having the scrappy social media smarts of an Arby’s or a Wendy’s.
It showed itself to be an effective opportunist in the world of 140 characters by seizing on two standout exploits during Week 1 of the Olympics in P.F. Chang’s—darn it, Pyeongchang. When 17-year-old Red Gerard won the gold medal for the U.S. in a snowboard competition with a score of 87.16, Denver-based Chipotle tweeted that the Colorado native deserved some silver, too. It told Gerard that 87 silver-foil-wrapped burritos would be waiting for him when he got back to their mutual home state.
Shortly afterward, it extended a similar offer to another snowboard gold medalist, Chloe Kim.