We’re nearing the end of the 2020 presidential election season and Texas, historically and consistently a red state, is still in play. Polling shows a close race between incumbent President Donald Trump, a Republican, and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, leading to predictions that the state might turn more purple than in years past, with a closer margin for blue Democrats come Election Day on Tuesday, November 3.
Early voting in Texas began on October 13 and runs through Friday, October 30, and already the number of ballots cast has broken records from the last election in 2016: 53 percent of the registered voters in the state have already voted, as reported by Texas Tribune. This is happening with the world in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, when people are minimizing contact in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Along with the presidency, there are major local swing races as well, pitting Republican incumbents with Democratic challengers in the senate and various congressional districts. Likewise, this election is a significant one for the restaurant industry, one still awaiting the approval of a stimulus package that would ideally inject money back into the heavily slumped industry. But another stimulus might not even reach citizens and businesses until early 2021 because of the difficulties of reaching a bipartisan deal.
Still, Austin restaurants and bars are encouraging — and, in some cases, helping — people perform their civic duties. Many have hosted voter registration drives, as well as offering free and discounted dishes and drinks to voters with stickers (technically, this practice is illegal, but businesses can get around it by extending these specials to everyone, even those without proof of voting). Some restaurants and bars, like Nixta Taqueria and Garbo’s, have committed to giving their employees paid time off or straight-up closing businesses earlier for the day in order to make it easier for them to vote.
One chain — P. Terry’s — even offered up a dining room as a polling site location on Election Day. Restaurants like Carpenters Hall are helping to feed poll workers, or putting together a drink kit for those awaiting the results, like Drink.Well did.
Turning a Dining Room Into a Polling Location
Austin burger chain P. Terry’s is temporarily converting its Westlake restaurant into one of the nearly 180 polling sites throughout Travis County on November 3. The company had submitted several potential locations — those with enough indoor dining spaces to safely contain ballot stations, check-in tables, voters, and poll workers — to the Travis County Election Committee. The department selected the Westlake address because it was in “an area of need,” according to P. Terry’s CEO Todd Coerver. While voters will be able to vote inside of the dining room, the restaurant will still serve food through its drive-thru and via third-party deliveries.
Restaurants Offering Paid Time Off for Voting Purposes
Internally, P. Terry’s issued a letter to its employees encouraging people to vote ahead of the election period. “We believe voting is not only a right and a privilege but a responsibility for every person in the U.S.,” reads the letter shared with Eater, “given it is the cornerstone of our democracy. It’s our time to be heard and be counted.” The letter also noted that the company isn’t “advocating for any political party or candidate,” and that “we are simply supporting and enabling your ability to fulfill your right to vote.”
The letter provided ample election resources for Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties, offered to coordinate rides to polling sites if needed, and gave an hour of paid time off so staffers could cast ballots during the early voting period, which is “designed to incentivize our employees to vote early,” says Coerver. (Only “a relatively small percentage” of the staff made use of this action, he noted.)
Similarly to P. Terry’s, other local restaurants have been or are offering paid time off for employees who seek to vote. On Election Day, seafood restaurant Garbo’s and East Austin Mexican restaurant Nixta Taqueria aren’t opening so that employees can go vote. Juice bar chain JuiceLand is closing all of its locations at 1:30 p.m. instead of its usual late-evening time.
“Engaging in our civic duty is something that is more important now than ever,” Nixta co-owner Sara Mardanbigi told Eater earlier this year. “As new business owners, it’s paramount that we are champions of this.”
Feeding Poll Workers
Zilker spot the Carpenter Hotel, with its restaurant Carpenters Hall, is participating with an initiative from the José Andrés-run nonprofit World Central Kitchen. The Chefs for the Polls initiative aims at feeding people waiting in long voting lines, who often vote during breaks in their days that coincide with meal times, as well as poll workers.
The team led by Jorge Hernández, the culinary director for parent company the Mighty Union, gave out picadillo tacos to early voters on Friday, October 30. They plan on delivering food on Election Day during lunchtime, too. Locations are determined by which places have long wait times, based on the map from Travis County. On the first day of early voting, they dropped off 300 fried chicken and salad meals at the Austin Oaks Church site.
New York-style pizzeria Home Slice also offered three hours of paid time off during early voting. To further encourage civic participation, the pizzeria allows employees to take up to eight hours off so that they can volunteer at polling sites and donate gift cards to poll workers and voter registration groups.
“We are supporting an employee’s decision to be involved with the election in any way they choose,” says Home Slice co-founder Terri Hannifin Buis through a rep. “This election is extremely important, and we want to ensure that all staff members have the opportunity to make their voices heard.”
Election Night Aids
Because Election Night can be a nerve-wracking experience, Jessica Sanders, the owner of North Loop bar Drink.Well, put together a takeout kit for people watching (or avoiding) the election results. “So many people will be at home nervously watching returns roll in,” she says. “People deserve something tastier than their fingernails to chew on.”
The box features items with mostly American sourcing and roots. There are cheeses curated by Antonelli’s, charcuterie, cocktails (including a Philadelphia Fish House, “a style with deep roots in American history,” as she describes), and decidedly un-American bottles of Champagne (she cites the oft-used quote: “In victory, you deserve it, and in defeat you need it”).
So far, the bar has only sold a few of the kits. Sanders thinks sales have been low because it’s quite possible that winners might not be actually announced on Tuesday, due to potential delays of the final results because of mail-in ballots. “That may make election night feel like slightly less of an ‘event,’” she says, “and merely the beginning of a longer process.”
Sanders is closing Drink.Well on Tuesday for voting and mental health purposes. The state of the evening is going to be “anxiety-ridden” for everyone, she says, and “that kind of distraction just isn’t compatible with offering the kind of focused hospitality” that they provide. “I’d rather support everyone staying at home with their families.”
Eater Austin is part of Vox Media. Find more coverage of the 2020 election across its other 13 networks: how to vote, in-depth analysis, and how policies will affect you, your state and the country over the next four years and beyond.