As the summer of 2012 winds down, it may very well be remembered as one of inadvertent politics caused by the restaurant industry.
First there was the Chick-fil-A firestorm caused by COO/president Dan Cathy's anti-same-sex marriage comments in July. Last week, a pop-up Chick-fil-A in Montana, and a counter protest down the street at a Pita Pit, proves that this issue won't go away any time soon.
Less than a month after Cathy's comments, the Papa John's Facebook page became an ideological tug-of-war between those for and against Obamacare after CEO/founder John Schnatter mentioned the company isn't supportive of the health care law, and it will likely cause pizza prices to go up by 11 to 14 cents.
Now, an independent pizza operator in Florida is getting a strong taste of the bitter partisan divisiveness typically found right before a Presidential Election. And while the Chick-fil-A and Papa John's aftermath could have been predicted to some extent, this latest reaction is a bit more surprising.
Scott Van Duzer, who owns Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Restaurant in Fort Pierce, Fla., told Politico earlier this week that people are boycotting his restaurant following a surprise visit from President Obama last weekend. The appearance prompted Van Duzer to spontaneously bear-hug President Obama (and likely caused the secret service to sweat a little bit).
Since the photo-friendly moment, much ado has been made about Van Duzer's politics – he's a registered Republican planning to vote for Obama.
Prior to Obama's Sept. 16 visit, Big Apple Pizza had two Yelp reviews – both the full 5 stars, according to CBSNews.com.
Now, there are more than 3,000 reviews and counting for Big Apple, most of them coming from nowhere near Fort Pierce, Fla.
Those submitting 1-star reviews have been transparent about their low-rating motives. For example:
"The pizza is fine, but I'll never go there again because there are too many other great pizza places that don't treat the POTUS like he's some long-lost frat buddy. All Mr. Bear Hug needed to do was to keep is mouth shut about being a pretend Republican. He decided to make it political when he went on record. But no, he needed to make a point that big hulking Republican white men really dig Obama. Maybe some clever Dem will come up with Van Duzer Day."
Another wrote: "The owner must have rocks for brains if he thinks more Obama will be good for him or any other American."
A commenter from Arizona said: "Talk about committing business suicide. After picking up Obama, your books are gonna be in the red pretty soon. Not too smart."
Despite the cycle of reviews completely unrelated to Big Apple's food or service, a majority of the pizzeria's ratings are now favorable after a barrage of 5-star posts came pouring in with support.
A post from Virginia says: "I am an Independent and want to add my voice of support for your warm gesture towards another human being. It is acts of kindness like this that make our world a good place in which to live. If your pizza is as good as you are, more power and success to you!"
A handful of commenters suggested renaming the shop to "Bear Hug Pizza."
For this particular situation, an inadvertent "statement" spiraled into boycott threats and negative online reviews. However, Big Apple's Yelp rating currently averages 4.5 stars, according to WebProNews, most certainly skewed by those counter-protesting the initial protest.
Every company big or small takes a risk by making a statement that even remotely resembles something political. This summer, those statements seemed to be generated entirely from the restaurant industry. Here's hoping operators embrace the new fall season by shifting the narrative back to their food and service.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.