No Matter What Side You’re On, the 2020 Presidential Election Matters for Restaurants

This article was written by Peggy Carouthers with FSR Magazine

After a contentious battle in 2016, the 2020 presidential election was already set to be a tense affair. But in the midst of COVID-19, the stakes are even higher in the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Embittered by a fraught pandemic response, systemic racism, Great Depression–level unemployment, and a volatile economy, Americans will choose not only which candidate they want to sit in the Oval Office, but also which candidate they think will be able to steer the ship through the current crisis. Here’s how the presidential candidates’ platforms stack up on three key issues facing restaurant leaders.


Perhaps nothing is so pivotal to a restaurant’s success as its employees, so it’s fitting that presidential candidates’ labor policies are a top-of-mind concern.

Biden has emerged as a pro-employee candidate and has won the support of key labor unions in the 2020 election. Not only did he pledge to encourage unionization, but he also plans to extend benefits for workers displaced by the pandemic and require employers to provide up to seven days’ leave for family, safety, and illness, including for COVID-19.

However, Biden’s support for raising the national minimum wage to $15 per hour for all workers and eliminating the tipped minimum hourly wage of $2.13 is perhaps the most impactful change his platform would have on the restaurant industry. Proponents of the policy, such as One Fair Wage, a nonprofit group that lobbies for equal pay for tipped workers, have lauded Biden’s plan, while critics—including the National Restaurant Association, which has argued against such an increase for several years—posit that it would be too burdensome for restaurants already operating on thin margins.

Biden has also given support to “fair and flexible” scheduling, which would require restaurants to give employees more predictable shifts. He has called for a return to the Obama-era Department of Labor rule, which increased access to overtime payments.

Trump, however, has been seen as a pro-business candidate and has spent much of his term rolling back protections put in place during the Obama administration, including scaling down the overtime rule and canceling restrictions on how employers could distribute tips.

Surprisingly, in 2019, Trump said that he was considering the call for a $15 minimum wage, but so far in this election cycle, it hasn’t surfaced as a major issue for the president. While he did note that many low-income workers’ wages were rising in his 2020 State of the Union address, a study by the National Employment Law Project found that most of these increases were driven by state minimum wage increases rather than a federal policy.


During the 2016 election, one of Trump’s key platform issues was cutting taxes for businesses—something he accomplished with his 2018 tax reform. Under the plan, the biggest companies, including large restaurant chains, benefitted from sharp reductions in tax rates, with the top rates falling from 35 percent to 21 percent. Many of those restaurant chains that benefited from the tax breaks reinvested the money in their businesses. For some, like Starbucks, this freed up cash to increase pay for employees and issue company stock.

Meanwhile, smaller companies also saw modest rate reductions, and “pass-through” entities, which the nonprofit Tax Foundation says make up 90 percent of U.S. businesses, received a 20 percent deduction on qualified business expenses. Though Trump had promised tax cuts would help individuals, too, Investopedia reports that many individuals actually saw higher tax rates or smaller refunds, particularly among lower- and middle-income individuals…

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