Many restaurants have learned that it’s better to embrace a controversial election than ignore it.

Some enterprising restaurateurs and hotel chains are tapping the frenzy over the presidential election to launch special events replete with original Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drinks and entrees—many with a sense of humor—to generate excitement with their customers. In an age of social media, some eateries have learned that it’s better to capitalize on a controversial election than ignore it.

Creating an election-related event is one ingenious way to connect with customers, strengthen a brand, and have some fun.

For example, at the six Slater’s 50/50 eateries located in Southern California, which founder Scott Slater says are known for “burgers, bacon, and beer,” customers can vote for the Red Burger or Blue Burger. But there’s a bit of trickery involved. It launched on Monday, the night of the first presidential debate. Each burger contains a beef patty, with a slice of bacon inside a great American cheese slice and, unbeknownst to some or all of the diners, carries the same description. In other words, customers are voting for the same burger.

Slater, who is 34 years old and considers himself on the tail end of millennials, is making a political statement, trying to have some fun, and building his brand. “The point is you have two candidates running, who are both filled with baloney. They’re the same,” he explains.

Slater’s goal is to generate publicity and, in his words, “get involved in the conversation. We feed off social media and digital media like a 12-year-old middle school girl.”

“My goal is to create an experience you couldn’t get in a typical restaurant,” he says. “If I can increase my foot traffic, it leads to more awareness and increases my money,” Slater says simply.

Nor is he hesitant about offending a customer who feels duped and who didn’t realize the Blue Burger and Red Burger are the same. “We try to push the envelope. We always offend a few people with what we do,” he declares, without apology.

And Slater’s 50/50 is just one of a number of eateries offering political promotions. The “Polling for Cocktails” event taking place at 38 Omni Hotel and Resorts-owned and managed restaurants, is based on the fact that “people still want to have fun when they travel,” notes David Morgan, Omni’s Dallas-based vice president for food and beverages. “It was a tongue-in-cheek way to get people engaged with the election and the hotels,” he says.

Indeed Omni spent time developing original cocktails such as one for Hillary, a True Blue Mule, consisting of vodka, ginger beer, and blueberry syrup, and the Trump-tini, made with vodka, lemon, and cranberry juices. Scores are tallied and overall consumption rates are tracked, so guests can keep score.

Ironically, Morgan says many of the guest selections stem more from personal taste than political affiliation. “People base their drinks on what they like,” he says.

The promotion launched on September 6 and lasts until Election Day on November 8. Morgan said it was extended because a one-day event “is gimmicky” and this length encourages exposure and gives ample opportunity for guests to participate in it.

Morgan also sees the promotion as yielding brand-building benefits, helping to encourage locals to visit an Omni hotel—many are situated in Florida, California, and Texas—and for travelers and loyal guests to connect with Omni.

Politics, Morgan admits, can be “divisive,” but giving guests a choice of three cocktails for each party, makes it more fun that competitive.

It may also encourage business guests to leave their room, and reach out to a fellow traveler, and discuss what drink they selected and why. This promotion “gives them a reason to watch the debate and talk to other guests,” Morgan suggests.

Not only chains but individual hotel restaurants are offering political promotions. Executive Chef Shawn Applin of the Sazerac restaurant, located in Kimpton’s Monaco Hotel in Seattle’s financial district, says its every four-year election night event enables diners to vote on their favorite Clinton or Trump food, cocktail, and dessert special. 

“We did it four years ago and packed the house. If we didn’t do it, we’d be very slow that night. We had to do something,” he says.

The Sazerac, which seats 112 people and accommodates 70 at the bar, is beaming election results on its two TV screens as if it were Monday night football. It will keep a running tally of whether customers favor the Hillary burger, an olive burger slider topped with green olives and Dijon mustard, or the Donald, a meatloaf slider, overcooked, just the way he likes it, Applin says.

In the old days, most restaurants were hush-hush about politics and avoided risking alienating any customers. “The media has a lot to do with it,” Applin explains. “There’s so much exposure for politics,” he adds.

And if any customers get into a shouting match over their favorite nominee, that’s okay with Applin, too.  “If there’s a fight, no big deal. Let’s talk about it,” he says.

The election night entrées and cocktails voting revolve around “having fun. We’re all about having a good time, evidenced by our four-hour happy hours. Our clients expect that of us. It’s a serious night and this is a way to lighten things up,” Applin says.

Bar Management, Beverage, Feature, Menu Innovations