Battered economy looms largest for MUFSO attendees, speakers

Battered economy looms largest for MUFSO attendees, speakers

WASHINGTON —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

While the 500-plus foodservice executives at this year’s MUFSO conference addressed such vital issues as unionization, health care, immigration, nutrition labeling, labor and rising costs, few discussions held during the three-day event moved far beyond the long shadow cast by the world’s mounting financial troubles. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

John Gay, the National Restaurant Association’s senior vice president of government affairs and public policy, summed up the mood when he recalled President Bill Clinton’s famous marching orders to his campaign operatives in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

But even as conferees repeatedly voiced concerns about the future, many also expressed an underlying sense of optimism. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

“This is the beginning and the end of a long journey,” said Tom Larranaga, publisher of Nation’s Restaurant News. “It’s the end of a long prosperous run, the end of easy success. Market dynamics will demand more and different [ideas] from all of us.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Nevertheless, he continued, it also represents “the beginning of greater prosperity—a new journey to bold thinking, innovation and new solutions.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

MUFSO Golden Chain winners participating in the annual Presidents’ Panel also appeared to be generally upbeat about their companies’ prospects. As they reported plans to grow their businesses in 2009, moderator James Doherty, group publisher of Nation’s Restaurant News, was prompted to reply, “Not too much doom and gloom here.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Yet, with stock markets see-sawing erratically around the globe in broad declines, MUFSO attendees were never far removed from the financial chaos threatening to engulf their businesses. Even the bitterly fought presidential contest between Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., often appeared to be eclipsed by the situation. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

“The economy is the box this election came in,” said keynote speaker Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC. “They can talk about anything else, but it all comes down to the economy.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Political observers warned attendees that the economy would almost certainly take precedent over the national legislative agenda in Congress next year, no matter who wins the election. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

“It’s all going to be about saving the economy and putting the financial system back on track,” Scott Vinson, director of government relations for the National Council of Chain Restaurants [3], told attendees. “This is like an economic 9/11. Other issues will be sidelined.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

In particular, legislation with potentially budget-busting price tags attached, like immigration and health care reform, are likely to be delayed for several years, pundits said. K-Bob’s Steakhouse [4] chain owner Ed Tinsley, who is the Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District of New Mexico, insisted that it was “imperative that the nation’s immigration policy needed to be solved.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

However, Gay said he was pessimistic that would happen at the national level in the near term. “It’s too bad because both [Obama and McCain] ‘get it’ on immigration,” he said. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

The industry’s recent push for enactment of a national standard for menu labeling also is likely to be back-burnered at least until the economy is out of the woods, pundits said. The Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, which has the support of the NRA, NCCR and International Franchise Association [5], was recently introduced by Sens. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

One silver lining that might come out of the troubled economy is that the new administration and Congress might hold the line on new taxes and any potential minimum-wage hike. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

“Some Democratic initiatives will have to be tempered,” Vinson said. “Congress doesn’t want to raise taxes during a recession.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

At the same time, Obama, who has said he favors raising the minimum wage to $9.15 an hour and indexing it to inflation, might be inclined to postpone any hikes until the economy turns around. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

But participants acknowledged that the union card-check measure potentially could come up for debate during the next congressional session. MUFSO speaker Rick Berman, president of Berman & Co., maintained that the federal government would not be looking to pass any costly measures in the face of the current economic crisis. He noted, though, that the 111th Congress likely would reintroduce the “Employee Free Choice Act,” which many believe would help organized labor step up its unionizing efforts by ending secret-ballot elections, because it would not be expected to cost the government anything. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Berman pointed out that organized labor has contributed heavily to the campaign coffers of many congressmen, and the contributors will expect some form of quid pro quo following the elections in November. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

“This is the most damaging legislation that actually has a chance to pass,” Berman said of the card-check measure. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Berman said Obama favors the card-check bill while McCain opposes it. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Supporters of Obama and McCain, in fact, had the opportunity to present their presidential candidates’ platforms during MUFSO’s “Hot Button Debate Panel: McCain vs. Obama.” In response to a question about former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina’s statement that neither of the two candidates were qualified to run a major business, all participants were unanimous in their disagreement. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

“I think they’re both signing up for a bigger job,” said Douglas Ducey, former chief executive and chairman of Kahala-Cold Stone and a McCain supporter. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Participants debated the two candidates’ positions on such issues as tax hikes, mandated sick leave, unionization and the estate tax, and their meaning for restaurateurs. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Melissa Rothring, former executive vice president of legal affairs for Kahala Corp. [6] and a McCain supporter, said he “understands how the business world is evolving and wants to let the market determine where it will go.” —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.

Phil Hickey Jr., co-owner and chief executive of Jocks II Inc. and an Obama supporter, countered that his presidency would be better for the foodservice industry because of policies that will aid the middle class and families, helping to strengthen the overall economy. —The widening global economic crisis intensified by a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election dominated the discourse at the 49th annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators onference here this month.