Culver sounded apologetic as he shared how well quick service restaurants, built for consistency, efficiency and speed, fared in 2020. Culver’s grew by 50 restaurants. In 2020 they were up 4% in sales.
“I almost feel bad even sharing it,” Culver said. “We had a good year.”
For Culver’s, challenges included supply chain management and quickly upgrading online ordering, which just 19 locations had in place pre-pandemic. Culver’s got PPP but, Culver said, “the next day we gave it back. We were doing fine. I felt guilty about taking it.”
Though Culver’s is flourishing, the former executive opposes a $15 federal minimum wage, arguing that states should be able to set lower levels. Culver’s hires teens, Culver said. Franchisees should be able to pay them less.
Stulman respectfully disagreed. “$15 an hour is $31,000 a year, pre-tax,” he said, adding that employee age shouldn’t matter if the job is the same.
As vaccines slowly roll out to staff and diners, all of the restaurateurs sounded optimistic, some more cautiously than others, about welcoming guests back in to full dining rooms.
Those guests, of course, can be both a solution and a problem. One recent Food & Wine article by Khushbu Shah, “The Customer Is Not Always Right,” observes that diners seeking normalcy don’t like how restaurant safety measures draw attention to the pandemic. (The worst offenders earn the epithet “mask-holes.”)