Papa John’s, Denny’s, Applebees brands suffer after Obamacare criticism

Though it has many faults, one great aspect of the free market – the actual free market and not what we have on Wall Street – is that customers have choices. Since the Obama re-election victory in November, a few CEOs and business executives couldn’t accept that they lost, and chose instead to bash President Obama and Obamacare.

It was especially strange to hear one CEO, Papa John’s’ John Schnatter, complain about the supposedly high costs of Obamacare, while he somehow found the money to build a moat around his mansion and a personal golf course. He’s also the same CEO who is facing a $250 million class action lawsuit for sending text messages to customers.

Then there was the local Denny’s franchisee who came up with the bright idea to tack on a 5% surcharge to every check to supposedly pay for Obamacare.

Or Applebee’s NY franchisee who claimed Obamacare may force him to institute a hiring freeze.

The result of the public tantrums? Well, let’s just say this is why smart CEOs stay out of politics in public.  From YouGov BrandIndex:

doctor health care obamacare

“Doctor, it hurts when I lie.”
(Doctor via Shutterstock)

Papa John’s, Applebee’s, and Denny’s were measured with YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score, which asks respondents, “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?” Results were filtered adults 18+ who have eaten at casual dining restaurants in the past month.Papa John’s Buzz score high point for the month came on Election Day – November 6th – with a score of 32. Eight days later, the score had dropped 10 points down to 22, when the spam text lawsuit was unveiled. A few days later, Papa John’s dropped below Pizza Hut’s score and is presently at 4.

Applebee’s had a 35 Buzz score on the eve of Election Day, when a few days later, Apple-Metro CEO Zane Tankel told Fox Business News he won’t build more restaurants or hire more people. By November 17th, Applebee’s score had fallen 20 points. As of this past Thursday, their score was 5.

After Denny’s franchisee John Metz’s Obamacare comments on November 17th, the chain’s buzz score dropped from 10 down to zero nine days later. However, they have since bounced back to 6, a higher score than both Papa John’s and Applebee’s.

And here’s their graph showing the brands plummeting:

Now shareholders can start comparing the cost of implementing Obamacare versus the cost of lost business due to ridiculously partisan public rants after a heated election.

What do these companies think of the free market now?


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.head.39 Ken Head

    Obama voters are morons. They’ll forget all about the controversy in a short time. They only way they know how to fix things is through legislation. They’d absolutely adore Obama for signing executive orders outlawing the right of some people to speak out against Obamacare, but he’s not going to do that just yet.

  • LisaSpamier

    He should pay the price, he had no business jumping into the political arena, and to top it all off he was just spreading lies, pathetic. http://www.ficksitall.blogspot.com

  • Kim_Kaufman

    My understanding is that Obamacare won’t go into effect until 2014. I never go to these places so I can’t boycott them.

  • Tinkspank

    Make your lunch/dinner and give all these asshats the finger!

  • Deb

    You can include WalMart as well… They are ending insurance for new employees and sending them to Obamacare.. Our company is already talking about it. with Obamacare available, it is cheaper for employers to pay the penalty than provide empoyees with insurance. We will all gradually but eventually go into a one payer system.
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/12/01/Nation-Largest-Employer-Ends-Insurance-Sends-New-Workers-To-ObamaCare

  • Deb

    You can include WalMart as well… They are ending insurance for new employees and sending them to Obamacare.. Our company is already talking about it. with Obamacare available, it is cheaper for employers to pay the penalty than provide empoyees with insurance. We will all gradually but eventually go into a one payer system.
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/12/01/Nation-Largest-Employer-Ends-Insurance-Sends-New-Workers-To-ObamaCare

  • LiberalObserver

    Bravo, its about time businesses stopped imposing FOX on their customers. Personally I prefer MSNBC, which is left leaning, or even better public radio, which at least gives a balanced view of the news. I have never been inside a business that has either of these options, it is either FOX or CNN. CNN is bland and worth little. At this point if businesses dont like these options, I will happily watch Sesame Street, anything other than FOX.

  • rmthunter

    Maybe the shareholders should think about the costs of present management as opposed to the cost of a new CEO.

  • Jafafa Hots

    For about five bucks you can get a little keychain universal remote that will turn off or change the channel on any TV. Without anyone knowing. They change it back to Fox, you flip it off again or change channels again. They think their TV is on the fritz and give up.

    One of my doctors shared a building with many others, with a central waiting room with a TV always turned to Fox. Personally I’d prefer silence to ANY TV in a waiting room, but that’s just me.

  • Houndentenor

    It only works if people do it. When the Baptists voted to boycott Disney, they weren’t able to convince their members to stop buying Disney videos for their kids or stop watching ESPN. It didn’t work because they didn’t actually boycott. The tuna boycott worked because there was a noticeable drop in sales and the companies had to deal with the bad PR because it was hurting the bottom line. In a capitalist system, boycotts are the only way to get corporations to change. Capitalist morality is simple. making money = good; losing money=bad. If they start losing money, they will change. If they keep making money, your threats will fall on deaf ears.

  • Houndentenor

    From the chart, Denny’s is regarded so lowly that it doesn’t much matter.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Not much, they go for crucifixions.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Denny’s also smells like a cat kennel, which makes wonder about their breakfast sausage special.

  • Papa Bear

    And the down-side of that is?

    ;-)

  • EdA

    In fairness, Denny’s also has a history of discrimination against blacks (I’m white myself). How would one go about double-boycotting?.

  • Dakotahgeo

    They may have, AS A CORPORATION, ended their financial backing of anti-gay organizations but the corporate piggies at the trough (CEOs, etc.) are free to do whatever they want with their money. (NOW we know where and why bonuses are in place!).

  • Dakotahgeo

    Chic-Fil-Throw-Up has the following of the AcT (American christian Taliban) but even they can only eat so much chicken before they have to start plucking their feathers. Suffice it to say, a food boycott may take longer but it is effective. Count the number of fast (and not so fast) food outlets and you’ll see that it is going to be impossible to keep all of them open! Many are standing empty and closed now! The American Obesty-prone population can only eat so much!

  • Dakotahgeo

    In MOST cases boycotts do NOT work (i.e., Ford, Procter & Gamble, Florida Orange Juice, Disney), mostly because not everyone buys a Ford, does Disney, etc., on a daily basis. However… if I know my neighborhood fast food or sit-down restaurants have conservative, right wing corporate ideology, you can beat the month’s rent I will not eat at Applebees, Dennys, Chic-Fil-throw-up, or Pope John’s Pizza slingers for love nor money! Yes, to a certain extent we CAN vote with our feet and the outsider righties can go out of business until they learn how to treat their customers! Let the eaters beware!

  • http://fighttherightwingnuts.blogspot.com/ mike31c

    Deal with it you scumbags. This is the free market you economy money-grubbing dipshits keep pushing! Except you forgot the one golden rule about not pissing off your customers!

  • tsuki

    I am not sure it is because they criticized ObamaCare. It is more because they are uncaring, greedy and exploitive CEOs.

  • perljammer

    So I did a quick check on Papa John stock (PZZA). For the past 12-month period, it’s up just over 43%; pretty stable over the last 5 months, except for a short-lived 12% dip right after the election that has since been recovered. So, yeah — people were aware of bad press, but no lasting effect on the company’s bottom line.

  • Kelly

    Well, he had to get all political and jump on the republicon-hate bandwagon, this is what happens, people are getting tired of their lies http://www.ficksitall.blogspot.com/

  • Naja pallida

    I don’t blame them, but sadly, that almost always comes with selling the rights to anything. I doubt even Peter Jackson had much, if any, say in the matter.

  • K_L_Carten

    Last time I went to Hardee’s and this has been at least a few years ago, they put up tv’s and had their own little network thing going on. Mostly pop stars and kids crap and lots of Hardee’s commercials. Fox News, wouldn’t spend a dime, and I do ask to change the channel at the Drs office, feel my I.Q. slipping just hearing that crap, or at least make some very snide remarks about stupid people watching propaganda and news that isn’t real or news.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I understand the Tolkien estate and IP rights management is very unhappy with all this crass commercialization of his work.

  • Naja pallida

    I’m sure the merchandising deal was inked long before the political self-flagellation.

  • Naja pallida

    I really wish I did have an idea, that way I could start to understand it a little. To me, it just seems like people punching themselves in the face and then blaming Liberals for it.

  • perljammer

    The Buzz score is a measure of “whether people have heard anything positive or negative about the brand in the media or through word of mouth”. Small wonder that people have heard negative things about Papa John, Denny’s, and Applebee’s, since they’ve all received a lot of negative press. News flash — people hear what’s being said! The Buzz score doesn’t have anything to do with whether people are tending to take what they’ve heard to heart, or to act upon it.

    BrandIndex also gathers data on quality, value, and customer satisfaction (among other parameters), but those weren’t in the report cited here. Then again, Taco Bell’s quality score soared after the introduction of its “Cantina” menu items, so maybe that doesn’t mean so much. No reporting of sales trends, such as they may be. So, no information at all as to whether these brands have actually suffered where it matters — at the cash register.

  • Naja pallida

    Once you get to the point of believing your own propaganda, and are incapable of ever breaking out of the tiny bubble you’ve placed yourself in, self-destruction is really the only option remaining. It’s just a matter of whether it is a slow deconstruction or a massive immolation. The saddest part though, is that no matter how things play out – even if a company is driven into the dirt by its wing nut CEO – that CEO will always go home with a nice golden parachute, and it is their employees that end up being the ones who really suffer.

    I work with people all over the world, of all political and religious leanings. To operate my business I simply cannot afford to be interjecting politics into it. I’d rather make a living than go around risking offending my clients.

  • Fifi

    You have no idea of the sense of self-entitlement that inhabits those guys. It’s utterly stupendous.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    EXACTLY.

    I’m liberal. Leftist. Proudly progressive. An LGBT American woman. I do not say anything about my personal politics to my business clients. For all I know, they might be conservatives or highly religious — and frankly it doesn’t matter. I’ll still do their projects and take their money. Conservative GOP managers need the same work done as their progressive counterparts, and in my line of business there’s no moral questions about the work itself.

    What I found astounding about the behavior of these franchise food CEOs is how they were deliberately going out of their way to alienate half of America. Made me want to ask them, “You want to sell your pizzas or fatty, unhealthy meals to everybody? Or just to those who agree with your politics? Is the money belonging to progressives and Democrats no good?”

    The only thing I can figure is so many of them are so steeped in Fox News and other wingnut propaganda, they’ve adopted the perverse reality of assuming it’s only a tiny minority who don’t agree with their world view. The angry idiocy has progressed to the point now where it results in self-inflicted harm.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I saw those Denny’s commercials. My reaction: “WTF?!”

  • slappymagoo

    I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their dip isn’t as much of a dip, if a dip at all. For some people (probably way to many) gay marriage is a more of a hot button issue than Obamacare. You’ll find more people who think “I want healthcare to be affordable but I still hates me teh gays” rather than “gay marriage is fine, just as long as healthcare remains expensive and oppressive.”

    Plus, quite a few people are under the impression that Chik-fil-A stopped endorsing and financing anti-gay initiatives, mainly because of vaguely worded press releases that gave that impression, all other evidence to the contrary.

  • mereside

    Dunkin Donuts has faux news blaring at their franchises where I live.

  • Indigo

    Real money stays out of the public eye.

  • UncleBucky

    Even Hobbit food won’t save ‘em.

  • cole3244

    what goes around comes around, open mouth insert foot, the favorite pastime of the rich and famous.

  • condew

    I could refuse to buy any tanks, torpedos, or missile-firing drones, but I don’t think anybody would notice.

    I think boycotts only work on retail and mass-market manufacturing.

  • condew

    Yeh, I ate at an Applebee’s in Cherry Hill, NJ. The food was awful, never again.

  • Naja pallida

    The customer is always right… but not necessarily always right-wing. Companies and businesses are stupid to interject themselves into the political debate on the mistaken assumption that all their customers will automatically agree with them. The hubris is astounding. Especially in a saturated market where people are always free to walk to the restaurant next door instead of yours, so anything you do to offend even one customer is idiotic.

  • condew

    Both my local McDonald’s have TVs, but they are generally tuned to more neutral content. So there is a choice. A TV playing FOX News while you eat is a lot more in-your-face than a CEO mouthing off.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Note that these all happened at second/third tier operations.

    This would never happen at a McDonalds or a KFC or a Dunking Donuts. They impress on all their franchisees that they must not appear to speak for the company under any circumstances without express prior approval.

    Franchisees that break that rule end up being shut down very fast.

    The Papa John’s situation was rather different. There the CEO mouthed off about his own company in a con call to investors. But he was doing that to try to get Romney elected.

    I don’t think any of the Obamacare comments remotely come close to the Bigot-fil-a owner’s support for hate groups. Unfortunately the two in the Boston area are at the two malls we go to. I didn’t like them before because they close on Sundays which was the day we usually might eat at the mall. Now of course we don’t use them and they certainly seem to be a lot less popular than they used to be.

  • Drew2u

    fox news is free for those franchises plus it’s more than just McDonald’s. Almost any restaurant chain or truck stop that I’ve visited plays Fox.

  • Drew2u

    I think it’s the Hobbit tie-in menu

  • Trumandem

    I’m always fascinated by these CEO’s who seem to have a mental default position that most “sensible” adults think and believe as they do. Recently I went into a sub/deli for a bite of lunch. As is usual there was a giant flat screen TV on the wall tuned to where else,…….FOX News. The place was packed wall to wall. While I was in line a patron came up and requested another news network be on. At first the manager gave a patently fake smile and responded almost through clinched teeth that most of his customers like watching Fox News while they dined. The patron than said why don’t we ask? It was weird how the manager’s demeanor instantly seemed to change as he saw an opportunity to prove that most of his customers were “right thinking.” He called out and asked how everyone would feel if another news network was on. The place erupted with applause, hoots and cheers. The guy was visually crushed. It was amazing. The guy was visibly shocked and caught off guard. He stood there for a moment almost in disbelief before he handed the remote to one of the waitresses who walked over and flipped it to CNN [which isn’t much better by the way]. After a few more minutes you could see him turn white with anger as he finally digested the fact that having an echo chamber on while you ate wasn’t that appetizing. Needless to say I loved it.

  • condew

    I was in a McDonald’s in Delaware which was freshly decorated with TVs, all playing FOX News. I asked at the counter if I was going to have to listen to that while I ate. The manager said yes, so I left without spending a cent.

  • bkmn

    I might care more about the above named companies if any of them actually made good food.

    I vote with my dollars and support local businesses, especially those that connect with local farmers and turn raw food into delicious dishes.

  • confusion

    Boycotts could stop wars. They could force corporations to be honest. It’s the people hat are too lazy or uninterested to make their lives better.

  • http://firefeeder.blogspot.com/ Stratplayer

    If you are in mass-market retail, the last thing you want to do is to alienate half your customer base by loudly and clumsily injecting yourself into partisan politics. These genius job-creators are letting ideology run roughshod over basic business sense. And I’m sure shareholders have taken notice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001426939279 Carl Kerstann

    They don’t consider the high cost of having a big mouth and being greedy bastards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kelly-R-Burnett/1412511530 Kelly R Burnett

    Opinions have consequences.

  • LiberalObserver

    It is time that people that care about our democracy boycott those companies that get involved in politics. This is a democracy, governance by the people. Those executives that want to get involved can either run for Congress, or exercise their right to vote. I personally advocate staying away from those enterprises that discriminate against their employees, exploit those employees, or deny them benefits that would improve their lives. I plan to stay away from Dennys (Medical discrimination), Chick-Fil-A (gay discrimination), Papa Johns, Applebees, and corporations like Wal-mart that refuse to pay their employees a living wage.
    http://www.liberalobserver.com

  • monopole

    Actually at the way things are going for John Schnatter that moat might be a good investment.

  • mirror

    Wow. In sort of surprised people are paying so much attention. Did the Denny’s rating improve again because Denny’s central slapped down the franchise owner Metz? Get the feeling some of these owners made the mistake of thinking their customers were primarily Fox Newsies…

  • http://voenixrising.com/ Mark Alexander

    I would also like to see how much Chick-Fil-A has dropped because of their corporate policies…

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