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Washington Times

Restaurant owners indicate stronger support for Trump

By May 14, 2024No Comments

(This column originally appeared in The Washington Times)

A recent informal poll at a National Restaurant Association conference revealed this bit of non-news: By a 2-to-1 margin, the 600 restaurant owners in attendance said they favored former President Donald Trump over President Biden. Even when including independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mr. Trump still won by a substantial margin.

Does this come as a surprise? Not to me. My company works with hundreds of small and midsize businesses across all industries. And the sense I get — although anecdotal, I admit — correlates to the mood of these restaurant owners.

And they’re not the only ones. The National Federation of Independent Businesses says that small-business optimism is the lowest it’s been since 2012. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports a worsening in small-business sentiment. Small businesses in Michigan are less optimistic about their prospects this year. One-third of small businesses aren’t sure they’ll make it through this year, says messaging platform Slack.

Most small businesses in this country are frustrated with the current administration. And taking the restaurant industry as an example, you can certainly understand why.

Imagine owning a restaurant in 2024. Labor, insurance and gasoline costs, as well as staples such as milk, eggs and cooking oil, have risen from 15% to 135% since President Biden took office. Customers — feeling the pain of higher prices at the grocery store and gas pump — are eating out less. Lunchtime crowds from office buildings are sparse thanks to left-leaning encouragement for workers to stay home.

Protests and exploding crime in cities — mostly blue cities — are keeping suburbanite eaters and shoppers away. Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in 30 years. Labor is tight. Workplace regulations favoring unions, forcing more contractors to be classified as employees, requiring higher overtime pay and making employers responsible for their workers’ behavior both in and out of their place of business are just a few of the burdens this industry — all industries — have been facing. Now, restaurant owners aren’t allowed to require noncompete agreements for key management. And these are the rules coming from Washington.

In blue states, where governors and mayors find encouragement from the White House, higher minimum wages are targeted at fast-food outlets, mandated vacation (not just sick time) is enforced, liquor license fees are exploding, scheduling requirements are expanding and outdoor eateries are being shut down because of onerous permit costs.

As a restaurant owner, your choices to deal with these challenges are limited. There’s only so much you can raise prices, but if you practice “shrinkflation” by offering less food for the same price, you get vilified by politicians. You either can’t afford to maintain the higher debt costs on new equipment, or your banker is reluctant to lend to you in this higher-rate environment, so you’re forced to go to more expensive alternatives to get your equipment repaired or to expand.

Your restaurant is now more likely to get inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (and pay more penalties) or reported to your state labor department or the federal one. Your employees — who obviously don’t understand the economics of running a business — are irrationally emboldened to unionize even though by doing so, they face losing their jobs as you — like some restaurant owners — are forced to shut down your operations because you can’t afford it.

Independent restaurants face challenges from bigger competitors that can absorb these costs. They struggle to hire talent away from the government, larger retailers and other service providers that can afford to pay more and offer higher benefits. They must deal with a younger workforce who don’t seem to have a problem not showing up for job interviews, let alone on their first day of work. Or who don’t come to work when they don’t feel like it, knowing full well that there’s another job waiting for them down the street.

I’m sure that the restaurant owners at the association‘s conference know that Mr. Trump won’t have all the answers. And they certainly understand that Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump (and we all know what that means). But one thing’s for sure: Despite his many — and in some cases significant — faults, Mr. Trump is not Mr. Biden. Some business owners will let other issues than business influence their vote — abortion, Ukraine, Israel, immigration, transgender rights, etc. Fair enough. But those issues will always be inferior to a person’s livelihood. And a business owner’s livelihood will always take priority.

Mr. Trump’s presidency proved extremely pro-business, and this would be expected if he is reelected. The mountain of regulations issued by Mr. Biden’s departments would mostly be suspended, ceased or rolled back. Inflation will likely not be quickly resolved, nor will immigration in the near term, and that’s going to frustrate. Interest rates are also destined to remain at much higher levels.

But restaurant owners — like most other business owners — can more easily adjust to these economic realities if they’re not burdened by federal and state watchdogs and allowed to run their businesses as they see fit. As evidenced by the survey at the restaurant owners conference, a great majority of business owners are willing to take another chance on Mr. Trump — with all the baggage that comes along with it — if only because the alternative is so bad for their livelihood.

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