America’s restaurant industry is in crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants across the country to close, and while some are able to sustain delivery and takeout operations, the only real way forward for the industry requires government aid. And today, the White House held a conference call to discuss coronavirus in the restaurant industry — without a single independent stakeholder on the call. Instead, in today’s White House press briefing, President Trump announced he spoke to executives of America’s fast-food industry: “All the big ones; they were great.”
According to a tweet from MSNBC’s David Gura, those executives included representatives from McDonald’s USA, Domino’s Pizza, Chick-fil-A, Subway, Papa John’s, and Wendy’s, as well as major fast-food and fast-casual conglomerates Restaurant Brand International, International Franchise Association, Bloomin’ Brands, YUM! Brands, Raising Cane’s, and Darden Restaurants. The National Retail Federation, the world’s biggest retail trade association, was also on the call.
The president said the assembled chairmen and CEOs discussed the role drive-thru and pickup will play in the weeks ahead, in line with the guidance that Americans everywhere stay home for 15 days. He noted that the group also talked about “getting small businesses support for their workers.” But given that the president isn’t hearing directly from the people that make up this aspect of the restaurant industry — including those overseeing large independent restaurant groups, like Dave Chang or Danny Meyer or Ashley Christensen — it’s hard to believe this support will be adequate.
To the administration, fast-food corporations — and not the thousands of independent restaurants that sustain communities — are seemingly the real priority. During the briefing, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin explained the importance of ensuring states allow drive-thru fast food to stay open. “These companies feed a big part of America and I expect they’ll feed a bigger part of America,” he said like it was a good thing.
When asked what specifically the government would do to support restaurants, Mnuchin noted that an upcoming stimulus package would include a program to help all businesses of 500 people and less, presumably restaurants included. However, this plan leaves out restaurant groups that fall between that 500-person mark and major fast-food brands — restaurant groups like Union Square Hospitality Group and Momofuku. It would appear that by leaving them off the call, they may get left out altogether.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.