Congress' close eye on restaurants has some politicos worried

Working Lunch: The industry is under attack in the political arena, with battles forming on a host of fronts.

Every episode of the Working Lunch government-affairs podcast starts with a run-through of the political issues restaurateurs would be well-served to monitor because of the potential impact on the business. This week, that task proved particularly difficult for co-hosts Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley. How can you isolate just a handful of developments when the industry is the focus of so much political activity right now?

Just on the federal level, the business is under scrutiny by some of the Senate’s most prominent members, from Elizabeth Warren to Bernie Sanders. They’ve demanded that the industry or some of its prominent members give an accounting of policies that have raised eyebrows, from ServSafe requirements to how chains are responding to union organizing.

“That’s a huge amount of attention from Congress on our industry,” said Coley, a partner with Kefauver in the government-affairs consulting company Allied Public Strategies. “We’re going to get hit from a lot of different angles.”

He ticked off such issues as a Senate committee’s efforts to strongarm Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz into testifying on his charge’s resistance of an organizing drive, and Warren’s demand that the National Restaurant Association detail how it uses ServSafe proceeds.

Kefauver noted that predictive-scheduling mandates are suddenly cropping up again at the local and state level after a few years of being back-burnered. Coley added that the situation is particularly frustrating because the restaurant business has had 10 years to figure out a way of giving workers more predictability in their work schedules without greatly complicating employers’ lives.

“We’ve got to figure this out,” said Coley. “We’re just giving the other side an easy win on this.”

That’s "instead of getting ahead of this issues," of not "playing chess instead of checkers," observed Kefauver. “I’m just annoyed by this.”

That's what prompted the longtime government-affairs veterans to lament what they agreed was a sharp acceleration in legislative and regulatory proposals with strong implications for the restaurant business.

Download this and every episode of Working Lunch from wherever you get your podcasts.

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