Now that anyone with a smartphone can play news reporter, sifting what’s real from the plausibly fantastic isn’t always easy. Consider these five examples from the restaurant industry. As incredible as each might seem, every staggering one is true.
Click on the arrows to see for yourself.
1. Unions accuse McDonald’s of being racist
In the fervent crusade to disparage restaurants, some labor advocates have decided to play the race card. The union-backed Fight for $15 coalition posted accusations on its website this week that McDonald’s is using “illegal intimidation tactics straight out of the Jim Crow era” to keep employees of color economically disempowered.
And it flat-out accused the franchisor of being a white supremacist, saying the chain had colluded with police officers in Memphis, Tenn., to monitor and intimidate protesting McDonald’s crew members of color.
"McDonald’s is proof that corporate greed and white supremacy are linked in America," the group asserts on its website. "Generations of racist policies and practices have contributed to tens of millions of Black and Brown Americans remaining trapped in poverty today, and by fighting higher wages at every turn, companies like McDonald’s help sustain the country’s system of racial oppression."
The group said it was joining a movement begun by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to combat that prejudice. But at least it acknowledged that its motive is to unionize fast-food workers, a new admission on the group’s homepage.
2. A feint to push joint employer
The race accusations coincided with a high-volume revelation by Fight for $15 that a group of McDonald’s employees had filed sexual harassment complaints against the company with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Largely lost in the barrage of media coverage was a fact that would have stood out for any politically minded chain restaurant executive: The plaintiffs worked for McDonald’s franchisees, not the franchisor.
Fight for $15 has been pushing for a test of whether franchisors can legally be considered joint employers of franchisees’ staffs. The National Labor Relations Board has vacillated on the question, but indicated it doesn’t believe a licensor should be responsible for the employment actions of its licensees. Getting the issue before other regulators and courts could revive the concept, which labor leaders believe will make the unionization of big chains much easier.
3. Mario Batali under criminal investigation
The New York City Police Department has confirmed that it is investigating allegations aired on this week’s “60 Minutes” that celebrity chef Mario Batali sexually assaulted women.
One of the incidents allegedly occurred years ago in an upstairs party room at The Spotted Pig, a New York City restaurant in which Batali reportedly holds a minority interest. Batali sent a statement to the show vehemently denying that he had attacked the woman who spoke to “60 Minutes” reporter Anderson Cooper.
If the incidents are confirmed, Batali could face criminal charges.
The accusations have already cost him his affiliation with the company that bears his name, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. On the day the “60 Minutes” report aired, it issued a statement saying that Los Angeles restaurateur Nancy Silverton and New York TV personality Lidia Bastianich would join Joe Bastianich, Lidia’s son, in buying out Batali’s interest.
In addition, a daytime talk show that featured Batali, “The Chew,” was cancelled.
4. Labor rolls back restaurants’ operating hours
Among the many, many head-spinning moments at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago was a first-person gauge of labor availability from former TGI Fridays and Buca di Beppo chief Wally Doolin. Today, Doolin heads Black Box Intelligence, a research service, but he offered his measure of the workforce as a consumer.
He explained during an educational session at the show that he and some associates had hoped to pop into the lobby bar of the Fairmont Hotel and have a midafternoon drink Friday, but found the lounge was closed. “It’s 4:30 on a Friday during the NRA Show and they’re not open,” Doolin noted. “Why? Not enough staff.”
Also speaking during the session was Roz Mallet, whose PhaseNext Hospitality is a franchisee of such concepts as Buffalo Wild Wings, Smashburger and Corner Bakery. She acknowledged that some of her operations are trimming their hours because of insufficient labor to stay open.
5. Cooking with cannabis
Noggins were also likely spun during the show by a revelation from chef Chris Sayegh, aka The Herbal Chef because of the private meals he prepares with cannabis in Colorado, where weed is legal. Incorporating marijuana into the menu “isn’t all about getting high,” he commented. Rather, it can be a recipe enhancer, just like other herbs or spices.
Indeed, “I’m not going to give names, but we’re already working with a couple of big culinary schools for people who want to learn how to cook with cannabis,” he revealed.
This week's head-spinning restaurant moments included a suggestion in court that the "b" in IHOb stood for "bad news for Applebee's." That's just one of the long-shot gambles that came to light as oddsmakers considered the likelihood of restaurants charging into sports betting and who'll win the chain vs. independent bout.