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Politics and the plate

3 min read


My resume includes a brief foray into the world of agency public relations, a gig that happened to coincide with the last presidential election. We brainstormed for restaurant clients on buzz-generating ideas centered around the election, but if memory serves, we ultimately decided to keep politics off the PR plate.

It’s a tricky business, but one that some retailers and restaurant companies are jumping into nonetheless. Convenience store chain 7-Eleven is once again asking coffee customers who support the Democratic candidate to choose the blue cup and Republican java fans to pick red. It’s the fourth election year for this promotion, and the retailer says the results in the past three mirrored the actual election results, as USA Today reported.

Promotions like this and others, including a Boston Market contest that asks customers to choose between turkey and chicken, have been carefully crafted and carried out. Other times politics intrudes is when restaurant owners take a stand on the Affordable Health Care Act or other pieces of legislation they worry will hurt the bottom line.

And sometimes restaurateurs seemingly stumble into the political spotlight by chance, as happened with pizza store owner Scott Van Duzer. The emotional bear hug he gave President Barack Obama this week seemed genuine and utterly spur-of-the-moment, but it was also a moment destined to go viral in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle.

And it illustrated that restaurateurs may be asking for controversy for themselves and their brands when they get involved in politics or even appear to take a stand. It’s completely understandable to get carried away when you come face-to-face with a famous person you admire, whether it’s a entertainer or the leader of the free world, but Van Duzer’s unguarded moment came with a quick backlash on social media, with criticisms on both his politics and his pizza, as media outlets including the Los Angeles Times reported.

Before Sunday’s hug, Van Duzer’s Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Italian Restaurant had two five-star reviews on Yelp. By Tuesday, the number of reviews topped 2,300, many criticizing the restaurateur for making an apparent political statement, but it looks like many were weeded out and deleted. By Wednesday afternoon, sentiment seemed like it might be turning. There were 397 Yelp reviews, with the most prominent being positive reviews of the food and service, as well as words of encouragement. Mariano Z. from Austin, Texas, wrote: “As an independent, I would gladly stop at this place, where politics are set aside and we treat each other as human beings with respect.”

Another fan brings up Chick-fil-A’s recent uproar over President Dan Cathy’s comments on marriage — without naming names. Chuck B. from Dade City, Fla., wrote: “I’ll take bear hugs over bigoted chicken ANY day of the week. I don’t have too drive far to get to you to wrap my taste buds around pizza made by those who care.
Eat Mor Peetza!”

Does your eatery take political positions? What are the pros and cons? Tell us in the comments.