This has been a rough year to be in the fast-food business. Here at home, growth in both the fast- and “fast-casual” restaurant sector has slowed as grocery prices have declined, leading many consumers to opt for dining at home over heading to the local burger chain. Meanwhile, growth has stalled internationally as well: according to a 2016 McKinsey study, Chinese consumers are increasingly proving resistant to the charms of lowbrow Western cuisine.
But maybe what’s really to blame is America’s terrible presidential election? That’s the opinion of Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor, according to CNBC’s Sarah Whitten, who reports that “the burger chain is just the latest fast-food restaurant to blame Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump for a slowdown of same-store sales.”
“When a consumer is a little uncertain around their future and really trying to figure out what this election cycle really means to them, they’re not as apt to spend as freely as they might have even just a couple of quarters ago,” Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor said in an earnings conference call on Wednesday.
Hey, I get it. Most of this election has felt like we’re driving headlong to the series finale of “America: This Place Where You’ve Lived” as the writers try to simultaneously throw their very last ideas at the wall while contending with how the show ends. (Spoiler: Turns out we’ve all been in purgatory this whole time!)
Meanwhile, voters face an uncertain choice between one major presidential candidate who has proposed to level the economic playing field by diversifying America’s C-suites and another who, on his good day, might level all the fields with atomic weapons. Do you really want to spend your last days on earth eating Baconators? No, they simply aren’t narcotizing enough.
As Whitten notes, “Penegor is not alone in his commentary.” Indeed, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a chain cuisine mogul sound off on the way our political discourse is having a deleterious effect on their sales.
Late last month, the Financial Times’ Lindsay Whipp reported that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was saying pretty much the same thing, that “uncertainty surrounding the presidential election” ― along with “civil unrest...heightened racial tensions, as well as worries about terrorism” were all contributing to a sales-killing “anxiety.” All of which makes you wonder if Schultz’s aborted campaign to have his own baristas interrupt their essential frappucino-making functions to have deep conversations with customers that were guaranteed to remind them of all the things making them anxious in the first place might have exacerbated the problem.
Now, at this point, you might be wondering about whether discontent over the election really is a major contributor to the fast-food sector’s downturn. Are there a lot of facts that prove this, or is this mostly speculation? Well, as Whitten reports:
“There haven’t been too many facts that can prove that. It’s a lot of speculation,” Wedbush analyst Nick Setyan said of Wendy’s blaming the election for a slowdown in sales.
So this might just be one of those times in which our widely held ephemeral feelings about modern life, our money and our commodities dictate the relative value of that money and those commodities. This happens from time to time. One such time? The entire history of capitalism.
In related news, right on time, whiskey sales are booming in 2016. Go get some whiskey, man. It’ll help a lot.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.