Industry News

Restaurants encourage employees, customers to vote and make plans to feed people at the polls

Election Day is quickly approaching, and restaurants are participating in initiatives to encourage people to cast their ballots and help provide food for voters waiting in long lines.

Many restaurants are offering time off for employees to vote, including Starbucks, MOD Pizza, Noodles & Company, Sweetgreen and &pizza, which announced back in June that it will close all of its stores on Nov. 3. The Washington, D.C.-based pizza chain has been offering employees paid time off to vote since 2016, but this is the first time it will close all of its 40 locations on Election Day.

“The restaurant industry employs 10% of the American workforce, and that 10% should not have to choose between receiving a paycheck and casting a ballot,” an &pizza spokesperson told Nation’s Restaurant News.

Companies across many industries are rallying behind this idea of removing obstacles that can impede voter turnout. More than 1,600 companies have partnered with Time to Vote, a business-led initiative to provide employees with voting information and make it easier for them to get to the polls.

Founders Table Restaurant Group, which includes Chopt Creative Salad Co. and Dos Toros Taqueria, is among the restaurants partnering with Time to Vote for the first time this year.

“Supporting our democracy has never been more important and at Founders Table we strongly believe that our employees shouldn't have to choose between earning a paycheck and voting,” said Julie Atkinson, chief marketing officer for Founders Table. “We are offering paid time off to any employee that needs flexibility on Election Day to head to the polls and vote. In order to support the volunteers and help combat poll worker shortage, we are also offering free meals from any Chopt or Dos Toros restaurants to badged poll workers on Nov. 3.”

Some restaurants are encouraging staffers to use their Election Day flexibility to become poll workers themselves, including Starbucks, which is offering free Lyft rides for employees who are volunteering as poll workers. The offer for a one-way trip up to $75 also applies to any employee who wants to use it to get a ride to their polling place to vote or to drop off a ballot at the post office, ballot box or other official drop location.

In addition to supporting their employees during election season, many restaurants are participating in efforts to help all voters as they face long wait times at the polls.

Pizza to the Polls is a non-profit organization that got its start in 2016 delivering free food to polling places with long lines. This year, the group has already sent more than 3,800 pizzas to 317 polling places in 31 states, according to its website. It’s also expanding its efforts beyond just pizza this year by partnering with Uber Eats to bring free food to 25 cities via food trucks supplied by restaurant partners including Milk Bar and Shake Shack. More than 180 food trucks will deliver food to voters waiting in line beginning on Vote Early Day on Oct. 24 through Nov. 3, Food & Wine reported.

Other organizations aiming to feed voters and poll workers include Chefs for the Polls, founded by chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, and Feed the Polls, launched by Zagat CEO Chris Stang. 

Food truck operators who partner with Feed the Polls will receive compensation from donations raised by the organization, which total about $85,000 so far, Stang told The Washington Post.

“It’s a way to help food truck workers who have been struggling during covid, plus get a balanced meal in the hands of a voter who needs it,” he said. “The people in line will see that the food truck operators are their neighbors -- they’re invested in the community they’ll be feeding on Election Day.”

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