After the industry’s antics of the past week, we’re pretty sure neither political party will draft a restaurateur as their standard bearer for the 2016 presidential election. There’s a better chance of everyone packing meals from home so there’s no risk of association with the business.
Consider how the industry fared in events with decidedly political and social undertones, starting with the 15 minutes of fame for what is likely the worst promotion in restaurant history.
1. White Appreciation Day? Really?
You have to wonder what the proprietor of Rubbin Buttz BBQ was thinking. Was it a publicity ploy, or just naiveté? We can’t rule out demonic possession, either.
The Milliken, Colorado, restaurateur posted a handwritten poster in his front window, announcing that Caucasian patrons will get a 10 percent discount on June 11, which he’s declared White Appreciation Day. One day, Edgar Antillan is running a little barbecue joint, the next he’s being interviewed on CNN about what the hell he was thinking.
Lest you think he’s of the black-helicopter-survivalist persuasion, Antillan is Mexican-American. He explained on CNN that the promotion started as a joke, a yuk-yuk that mocks the American tendency to give everyone their day, from moms to pet owners, Cuban-Americans, blondes and twins. “Let’s fight fire with fire,” he said without clarifying.
He got fire, all right—directed at him. He and even his community were threatened with physical harm. Meanwhile, the media invitations poured in.
Antillan backtracked, announcing that everyone—“all Americans”—would get the 10-percent discount next month.
2. Starbucks lands in hot (California) water
Few restaurant chains have done more than Starbucks to stress the importance for all businesses of protecting the environment and preserving natural resources. So it reeked of hypocrisy when someone noticed the bottled water sold in Starbucks cafes was drawn from the depleted aquifers of California, where the ongoing drought has reached biblical proportions.
To its credit, the chain responded quickly, announcing this week that it will shift its sourcing for Ethos Water, a proprietary brand, to Pennsylvania. “We are committed to our mission to be a globally responsible company and to support the people of the state of California as they face this unprecedented drought,” said John Kelly, Starbucks’ SVP of global responsibility and public policy.
3. Darden’s tax break
The parent company of Olive Garden and Capital Grille ran the risk this week of drawing the sort of ire fellow Floridian Burger King drew when it relocated to Canada. The flashpoint for that anger was the huge tax break BK would get by moving into the Toronto-area headquarters of its acquisition, Tim Hortons. BK denied the allegations, but still drew plenty of public condemnation.
Darden, a major employer in the Orlando area, might have raised an eyebrow or two when it confirmed that it would still qualify for a state tax credit granted to big employers, an incentive for them to create and maintain local jobs. With the sale of Red Lobster, Darden fell below the threshold required for the credit, but Florida officials agreed to lower the standard, noting that Red Lobster had remained in the state, just under new ownership.
Then Darden announced it was eliminating 30 headquarters positions.
4. Subway deals with a potential scandal
No retail business wants to be dragged into political controversy. What touched Subway this week is an altogether different order of scandal.
After two policemen were shot and killed during a traffic stop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a young woman named Sierra McCurdy posted her feelings on the incident. “Got ‘em!” she declared on Twitter in a post decorated with handgun icons.
It would have been just an insult to all that’s good in society if McCurdy, who goes by the name of C-Babi, had chosen her profile picture more wisely. The chosen photo shows her in a Subway crewmember uniform.
Within minutes, a firestorm erupted in the Twitterverse, with outraged posters vowing to never again visit the chain.
Subway tamped down the outrage by summarily firing the woman and declaring its arm’s-length position in such matters.
“This behavior is unacceptable & does not represent our brand’s values & ethics,” Subway said in an explanatory tweet.
The industry may not have gone untarnished this month, but at least it rallied quickly.