Restaurants should throw the presidential candidates a free muffin or slice of pie as a thank-you for the business they’ve delivered. You may not spot them on the news smooching babies, but rare is the coverage that doesn’t show one of the 4,973 White House aspirants moving through a local independent’s dining room, greeting the crowd they’ve drawn and running up a sizeable tab.
Hopefully the candidates are socializing with their hosts as well as fellow customers. Maybe they’ll gain insights into the concerns of restaurants during this election cycle.
This week brought unmistakable signs that a dialogue may actually be taking place. How else to explain what the Oval Office hopefuls had to say between mouthfuls of pancakes about the minimum wage?
‘Kill it in Washington.’
One of the more radical suggestions for changing the wage was floated by Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and one of the two business vets in the race. Her recommendation on the federal minimum: Kill it altogether.
She’s not suggesting a removal of the safeguard for restaurant hourlies and other workers, just a localization. If the current rock-bottom wage isn’t sufficient to support the people earning it, then adjust what’s paid in their area instead of trying to nail what’s appropriate for every worker in every nook of the nation. She’s voiced a policy of rescinding the federal minimum and letting states decide what should be paid.
‘It makes no sense to say that the minimum wage in New York City is the same as the minimum wage in Mason City, Iowa," Fiorina said, a particularly brave statement since she was in Iowa at the time.
Bonus disclosure: Fellow Republican Jeb Bush aired the same idea back in March.
‘Lower is better.’
The other businessperson in the race, frontrunner and runaway-mouth Donald Trump, was characteristically blunt about how he views the concept of a minimum wage: Lower is better.
Trump’s thesis is that U.S. companies are bailing out of their homeland because of the lower pay scales available overseas. It’s a “nasty answer,” but lower domestic wages are the only way to keep American businesses on American soil, according to The Donald.
Besides, Trump boasted, he knows how to create jobs that pay far more than the minimum wage, so concerns about a minimum income would disappear.
‘Waffle House for me.’
In the race for the Democratic nomination, frontrunner Hillary Clinton is either for or against a $15 minimum wage, depending on when you asked.
As Restaurant Business (and not a few other media) reported in June, Clinton surprised a group of restaurant workers lobbying for a so-called living wage by phoning into a Fight for $15 rally in Detroit. The goal of the group was enacting a $15 wage. “I want to be your champion,” she said at the time. “I want to fight with you every day.”
So she favors a $15 minimum, right?
Not at all, Clinton was quick to say afterward. She just likes the idea of closing the wage gap between line worker and CEO, without any specific minimum wage in mind.
She echoed that blurred position this week in a new ad that shows her hugging a restaurant worker and promising to “reshuffle the deck” on compensation levels.
‘No doubt about it.’
Clinton’s closest rival to date for the Democratic nomination is unambiguous about his policy on the minimum wage. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t expand on his position this week, but there was no need. He’s already introduced a bill in the Senate to raise the pay floor to $15 an hour.
He’s also advised restaurants and other businesses on how they should pay for doubling the federal minimum: Raise prices and cut profits.
‘Maybe. Maybe not.’
Back at the fence, retired neurosurgeon and social commentator Ben Carson found a comfortable place this week to straddle the issue. He told a Phoenix audience that he wouldn’t be opposed to adjusting the minimum wage, and suggested that it be indexed to the rate of inflation if a change is made. But he did not say definitively if he’d raise the minimum or leave it alone.
Carson also dropped the bombshell that U.S. immigration policies and practices are in need of an update.
Bonus revelation: Which restaurants are benefiting most
Boredom may have figured into the decision by reporters for U.S. News & World Report to compute which restaurants have enjoyed the biggest bumps in business from early campaign swings through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Benefiting the most in the initial contest sites are the Pizza Ranch chain in Iowa (Mike Huckabee, who says he favors a “maximum wage” for CEOs instead of a minimum for hourlies, has visited the concept at least seven times); The Barley House in Concord, N.H.; and Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, S.C.