How Your Restaurant Should Balance the Politics of Immigration

Not a day goes by when the media is not covering both American and international politics, and it’s hard for restaurant operators not to succumb to the desire of taking political sides. Irrespective if you are a Republican or Democrat, promoting a given political party as part of your marketing efforts will certainly polarize a certain percentage of your restaurant’s patrons. Brands may potentially feel forced to support the opposing parties, but this may be enough for loyal customers to consider alternative options that align to their views in what is one of the most competitive categories of business. Avoiding taking sides has remained the golden rule for decades, ensuring a restaurant brand has the broadest appeal amongst the community and allowing the quality of food and service to be the true decision influencer. However, for many operators and the industry as a whole, there is a lot at stake today with the current U.S. government’s new immigration policy.

As the largest employer of immigrants any change in immigration policy and enforcement will have a significant impact, and the urge to take action has never been stronger. To put this in perspective, the food service industry is worth more than $630 billion and is by far the largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with more than 13 million people, of which between 12 to 16 percent represent undocumented immigrants. Managing and curbing immigration does pose a challenge for the industry since finding talented, hard working employees remains one of its biggest obstacle for growth. New immigrants who are eager to build a future in the U.S. and are hard working individuals are just what the industry needs to remain competitive. If your business retains the services of a significant portion of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and the new push for deportation may impact your business you may want to take action through the following three initiatives. There are a few strategies the independent or chain operator can do to ensure they have access to staff that will limit any negative repercussions, namely:

Join the Association of Restaurant Operators

If you are not currently a member of an association this maybe the time to join. History has proven there is strength in numbers and the National Restaurant Association is one of the largest representing more than 380,000 restaurant locations in the U.S. In addition there is the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and in some states you can also find location associations such as the Texas Restaurant Association. Through lobbying efforts, these associations have a strong influence in Congress and may provide the level of support and voice required to offset the risk of losing a portion of your employees to deportation, or the inability of hiring staff in peak seasonal periods due to immigrants’ fear of deportation.

Join the Sanctuary Restaurants Organization

Most recently we have seen the creation of a new group under the name Sanctuary Restaurants created to support restaurant workers, owners, and consumers in ensuring that society respects their dignity, human rights, and contributions to our industry and the U.S. This group has gained traction in the past year with the growth of attention to the polarization of American society around immigrants, refugees, race, ability, and sexual orientation. The movement was born as a joint initiative between the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United) and, and seeks to leverage the strength of the food service industry for both a voice against racism in addition to helping train and provide legal support for those being persecuted.

Leverage your Roots

Restaurants, especially the well established operators, form a central influence on communities which historically has manifested itself as sponsorships of amateur sports teams, the use of their restaurants for charity events in addition to offering pro-bono work for fund raising activities. Leveraging your strong network by promoting your immigrants and their families will provide a human dimension to the immigration issue. This may provide greater impact in locations where there are none to a very few undocumented immigrants, bringing to light the positive impact these individuals have contributed to the industry and specifically to the given community. These initiatives and any other may help dispel the negative light given to immigrants, especially those that have come to the U.S. legally.

The foodservice industry is one of the largest employers in the U.S. and where many immigrants have become successful and wealthy. As the U.S. attempts to retain its image of the country of golden opportunities where anyone can make it, it will need to balance the needs of protecting their borders with those finding low wage employees to support the growth in the industry.