Restaurateur Danny Meyer Wants to Make Voting Cool

Photo Credit: Scott Roth/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
November 5, 2018

By Carlo Versano

Danny Meyer is known as a visionary in the restaurant business, but his latest moonshot has nothing to do with food ー he wants to make voting cool.

"You want it to be cool to vote and not cool to not vote," he told Cheddar in an interview a day ahead of the election, comparing casting a ballot to the act of quitting smoking. Whereas the cool kids all used to smoke, he noted, now it's the opposite: nonsmokers are the cool ones.

Meyer is executing his vision by giving all 2,500 employees of his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant empire three hours of paid time off Tuesday to go to the polls.

New York state required employers give registered voters two hours paid time to vote (with some provisions). Meyer said he's going a step further and telling his employees to vote when and how it is convenient for them. "You don't have to prove it to us."

In considering ways to "make a statement" about how seriously his company was taking this civic responsibility, Meyer said he considered closing all his restaurants for lunch Tuesday ー but that would have taken money out of his workers' pockets. This initiative won't affect any paychecks or staffing.

"We wanted to take away whatever obstacles there may be," Meyer said.

Meyer coined the term "enlightened hospitality" to define a workplace culture that prizes both customer service and corporate responsibility. "I want our employees to be great civic citizens as well," he said. His voting initiative is part of that business strategy, which has served him well ー from his early days as owner of the popular Union Square Cafe in New York to founding Shake Shack and running some of the hottest restaurants in the Big Apple for three decades.

Getting out the vote in the hospitality industry, with its younger-skewing employees, long shifts, and hourly wages, is particularly difficult, Meyer said.

But until there's the "political will" to modernize our arcane voting processes, Meyer said it will be up to business leaders to create the template for change ー that starts by making sure employees don't lose money by exercising their civic duty. But then, he said, it's up to them.

"You don't have a right to complain unless you vote."

For full interview click here.