- White Castle will close all of its 377 restaurants between 7 and 11 a.m. on Nov. 3 so employees can vote in the 2020 presidential election, according to a company release Tuesday. Staff members who are scheduled to work during this window in White Castle's restaurants, manufacturing plants or the company's office will be paid for the four-hour break.
- CEO Lisa Ingram said in the release that partial closures on Election Day will be a new tradition for the chain going forward for presidential elections.
- White Castle isn't the first restaurant chain to announce a reduction in Election Day store hours to give employees a chance to vote, but it may be the largest to do so. Washington, D.C.-based pizza chain &pizza, for example, will close all of its store locations on Nov. 3 and provide paid-time off to encourage team members to vote, and is encouraging other restaurants to keep operations close on Election Day to create a private industry holiday.
Though neither presidential candidate has said much about the restaurant industry directly, both former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump's policy platforms impact employees in this sector. Biden, for example, has vowed to abolish the tip credit if he wins the presidency, requiring front-of-house wait staff to be paid a full minimum wage instead — a move that would could significantly burden independent restaurants.
And Trump's continued aim to slow legal immigration and crack down on illegal immigration would also have a major impact on restaurant employees since the hospitality sector is so reliant on seasonal temporary work visas.
Giving employees time to vote in such a heated election is restaurant operators' best interest as well, as independent and legacy chains alike continue to press the federal government for a relief package specifically tailored to the restaurant industry.
Congress is still locked in a long stalemate over approving a new stimulus deal, and the Senate went on recess earlier this week, suggesting a package wouldn't be passed until after Election Day. The House-backed Heroes Act, which would include $120 billion in support to restaurants, still needs Senate review. As the pandemic stretches on, with some experts predicting disruption will continue well into late 2021, it's possible that the restaurant industry could require more than one relief package to prevent mass closures — if it receives one at all.
Since Election Day isn't a federal holiday, the industry could see additional commitments by chains to give employees PTO to vote, especially as diners have come to expect progressive, employee-first policies from the brands they buy from. Bakery chain Milk Bar, Mediterranean fast casual Cava and Shake Shack are also offering time off on Election Day.
White Castle's choice to close stores for a few hours could signal shift in how bigger QSRs are approaching voting benefits for employees. Still, major restaurant chains like Starbucks and McDonald's are not giving workers PTO to vote in the presidential election, though Business Insider reports that McDonald's has given out thousands of voter registration packets in customers' bags of food. Starbucks is also providing employees with free one-way Lyft rides to vote, drop off a ballot or volunteer as a poll worker.