Key Takeaways from White House Restaurant Executive Roundtable

Yesterday, the White House hosted a roundtable meeting with restaurant executives and industry leaders to discuss the support and immediate needs of the industry. The politicians included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, Ivanka Trump, Brooke Rollins, and Jared Kushner.

From the hospitality industry, the participants included:

  • Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International; 
  • Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread; 
  • Will Guidara, Make It Nice Hospitality; (Eleven Madison Park)
  • Sean Feeney, Grovehouse Hospitality;
  • James Bodenstedt, MUY! Companies; (Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut franchises)
  • Tilman Fertitta, Landry’s; 
  • Tim Love, Texas-based chef, operator, and TV personality;
  • Thomas Keller of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group
  • Marvin Irby National Restaurant Association Interim President & CEO 
  • Melvin Rodrigue Association Board Chair

The full transcripts can be found here and the video is listed above. It was clear the restaurant executives came in with a unified voice as there were no disagreements among the industry in what needs to happen and they voiced similar requests for the administration. The main talking points included:

Deductions for Corporate Spending

Donald Trump kicked off the meeting mentioned allowing deductions for businesses spending money in the hospitality industry.

"We’re looking at doing deductibility so that a corporation can use a restaurant or entertainment clubs, et cetera, and get deductibility.  I think that’ll really have a big impact."

PPP Program: Extending 8 week period to 24 weeks 

Nearly every executive from Jose Cil, Will Guidara, Melvin Rodrigue, and Marvin Irby pushed to extend the PPP Program. They made the point that this wouldn't require any more funding and Steve Mnuchin asked to clarify the amount would be the same whether the period to spend the money was June 30th or October 31st which was confirmed by the panel. 

MR. LOVE:  Mr. President, I think that that if you, if what he’s saying is, if we could get the 24 weeks, which gets us to October 31st basically — right? — this allows us to get the young restaurateurs going and spend the money that you intended for them so that we can get out and show them what a great job you guys are doing.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  But you’re pretty unified on the number 24.  Right?

MR. LOVE:  Yes, sir.

Later, Panera Bread CEO, Niren Chaudhary, reiterated this point in which Trump asked Steve Mnuchin if he thought it was possible to which he replied:

SECRETARY MNUCHIN:  We’re working on a technical fix that we do have bipartisan support for it to extend it.  I’m not sure it’s that long.  But I’ve spoken to the SBA committee and there is bipartisan support, so we’re working on that.

Business Protection

Jose Cil, the first speaker of the industry to go, mentioned extending the PPP and targeted financial assistance. One other remark he made specifically called out business protection from lawsuits.

One is we think business liability protection for small businesses is important.  You know, we’re going to see potentially — with the reopening of the economy, with the reopening of small restaurants, we’re going to see frivolous, I think, and unfounded lawsuits against restaurant owners, against small businesses that are trying to do the right thing, trying to survive, and trying to keep their — their businesses going.  So we — we firmly believe that protection from these types of frivolous lawsuits would be helpful.

PPP Program: Adjusting the 75/27 Rule

Tim Love of Texas asked that the rules regarding employee spending of the PPP and rent be adjusted to better fit the market and called out New York specifically that faces some of the highest rents in the country. 

The — the 75/25, the way that it’s spent, I know it’s tough, but I’m speaking for my friends who are in New York — not necessarily for myself, even in Texas where the rents are higher — and they need the ability to spend the money on rent if necessary, so long as they’re hiring their employees back.

Lease Termination

This subject didn't get very much time but Landry's CEO Tilman Fertitta did broach the subject before switching to listing the restaurants he owns in NYC. Additional time was spent on discussing the NBA as he also owns the Houston Rockets.

And then just one more thing.  If we could just do something with lease terminations, because like — I’m the largest operator in New York for full-service restaurants.  And the million-dollar leases — let them protect their rights of the landlords —

Safety Standards

Jose Cil mentioned his staff wearing gloves, practicing social distancing, installing acrylic screens, and reduced capacity in dining rooms. Secretary of Labor Scalia added:

I had discussions with several of you about — about safety.  We’re very focused on that at the Labor Department, giving workers — and I know you’re focused too on giving customers the confidence as they return.  And we’ll — we’ll continue to work with CDC and others to help on that front too.

Insurance Interruption

While business insurance interruption is a major sticking point, and Chef Thomas Keller is an organizing member of "BIG" or Business Interruption Group, it was only a minor quote that wasn't addressed more.

I also want to thank you for voicing your support of BIG, which is our Business Interruption Group, which I started with a couple of other chefs and has grown quite large.  And we’ve started to make some inroads with the insurance companies, certainly with some of the congressmen and some of the senators.  So we continue to work on that for all businesses, not just for restaurant businesses.

Other Notable Quotes:

Thomas Keller:

Whether you have 650 restaurants, 2 restaurants, 6 restaurants, a thousand restaurants, it doesn’t really matter — we all are nurturers at heart.  And we want our restaurants to reopen so that they can nurture our guests, our communities, and finally, our country.

Will Guidara:


A post shared by Indp Restaurant Coalition (@indprestaurants) on

Ivanka Trump:

Melvin Rodrigue:

We survived Hurricane Katrina.  We’ve survived the BP oil spill.  Restauranteurs are a resilient groups.  Very tenacious.  And so we’re there, and we appreciate your help.