Another One Bites The Dust – Bennigan’s Restaurants

We’ve been playing a lot of Queen lately, here at Routing By Rumor world headquarters. Especially this tribute to all of the victims of the U.S. economy. It’s too bad that Washington still can’t bring itself to accepting what most Americans already know.

The latest victims are the restaurants owned by S&A Restaurant Corp., which is part of Texas-based Metromedia Restaurant Group, which is part of the privately held Metromedia Company, owned by the 93-year-old billionaire philanthropist John Werner Kluge.

About John Kluge…

Columbia University in New York City announced last year that Mr. Kluge had pledged $400 million to the University, the largest gift in it’s history. With a little less than $10 billion to his name, poor Mr. Kluge is all the way down at #31 on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans, just below Nike’s Philip Knight, but ahead of eBay’s Pierre Omidyar.

Apparently, all of their company owned locations in the United States have closed, and they have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This past June, Metromedia disputed the accuracy of this report in the Wall Street Journal, that claimed they had already prepared a bankruptcy filing. There were about 150 company owned Bennigan’s restaurants, and 58 Steak and Ale restaurants. Apparently, a smaller number of franchised Bennigan’s locations in the United States and elsewhere are remaining open for now. Restaurants operating under the Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse brands, also owned by Metromedia Restaurant Group, appear to be staying open for now.

columbia.edu)

John Werner Kluge (photo credit: columbia.edu)

As has been the case at many other companies that have crashed and burned, many Bennigan’s employees were unaware of the closings until they showed up for work last Tuesday, and were greeted by a sign on the locked front door giving them the good news (If you look closely at the photos in this article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about the closings, we believe you’ll see a locksmith changing the lock on the front door at a Fort Worth, Texas Bennigan’s …yup, good call, since this article identifies the locksmith!). What ever happened to the good old two weeks notice when your job is about to self-destruct ? OK, maybe two weeks is asking too much… how about 24 hours notice. Maybe it’s just us, but we don’t think that any employer worth working for would treat their employees that way. We think it shows a complete lack of class. We understand that S&A Restaurant Corp. was probably in dire financial straits, but couldn’t they have done better by their employees ?

These days, it is standard procedure for employers to state right there on the job application that it is “employment at will”, and they can terminate you at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. For certain, this is driven by the fear of lawsuits, but how the hell can they expect to hire employees who will be committed to the company, if the company won’t make any commitment to their employees ? To us, this is a prime example of the sorry state of American business in the 21st century. And employers wonder why they can’t find loyal, dedicated employees. They wonder why people quit without giving them fair notice. How much notice did Metromedia give their employees about the fact that they would be closing their doors? None. Yet there were published reports a month or two earlier that Metromedia had already prepared a bankruptcy filing.  Shame on you, Mr. Kluge. Those were some of your hardest working and lowest paid employees, who helped you get to #31 on the Forbes list. Welcome to the era of the disposable employee.

In our mind, employees of other Metromedia businesses have every right to simply pick up the phone one day, and tell their boss they won’t be coming to work any more.  If management at any company has a problem with loyalty like that, just remind them that it was their decision to classify you as an “at will” employee, and that you are simply exercising the freedom that being “at will” gives you.

The asymptotically decreasing tenures of the last few CEO’s at Metromedia Restaurant Group (MRG) may shed some light on the troubles at the company. Clay Dover resigned as CEO in late May after holding that position for about six months. Mr. Dover had previously held other positions at MRG, and had replaced Vince Runco, who had been MRG’s CEO for less than a year. Mr. Runco replaced Jeff Moody, who was CEO for about 18 months. Mr. Moody had replaced John Todd, who held the CEO title at MRG for just shy of two years.

Published reports have questioned whether the affected employees will be receiving their paychecks for hours worked up until the restaurant closures, and whether consumers who hold gift cards from the two chains will receive refunds. Our advice… don’t hold your breath. Of course, if Metromedia Restaurant Group wanted to show it’s loyal customers some goodwill, they could announce that gift cards from their Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurants will be honored at their Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouse locations. But again, don’t hold your breath.

The minimally carnivorous, quasi-vegetarian staff at Routing by Rumor has never set foot in either a Bennigan’s or a Steak and Ale, so we don’t know if we missed much, but for thousands of their employees now out of work, it’s a disaster. Restaurant workers are among the lowest paid workers, and in the very tough economic times we are experiencing now, they will have a difficult time finding employment.

This brings up another hardship that restaurant workers in the United States are subject to. Many employees allege that they are forced to share their tips with managers and other employees. By law, employers can’t require employees to share their tips with management. To make matters worse, restaurant workers are not subject to the same minimum wage standards that other workers are protected by. As long as their salary plus their tips equal the mandated minimum wage, their employers are within the law. This means that in many cases, they are paid virtually nothing by their employers. Here’s an article from Nation’s Restaurant News, that describes many of the abuses that restaurant employees allege, and some of the litigation that has resulted, involving some of the largest and best known restaurant chains in the country, including names like Applebee’s, which is owned by IHOP.

As of this morning, it appeared that the websites for Bennigan’s (www.bennigans.com), Steak and Ale (www.steakandale.com), and Metromedia Restaurant Group (www.metromediarestaurants.com) had all been taken down. And the vultures are already starting to swoop down and pick through Bennigan’s remains. Check out this article about a locksmith that was hired to change the locks at a Florida Bennigan’s location, and decided to load up his van with liquor and food that remained in the restaurant. He got caught.

- Routing By Rumor

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One response to “Another One Bites The Dust – Bennigan’s Restaurants

  1. I imagine a high percentage of Houstonians reading this would recollect, as I did, the looks of shock, chagrin, and disbelief on the faces of Enron employees who arrived for work not so many years ago only to be told they were jobless. The sight of security guards escorting stunned people to the line of taxis outside the building is one I won’t forget.

    As for the other side of the loyalty coin, there is my mother, who simply refused after my dad’s death to sell any of the Maytag stock she owned. He had spent his entire life with the company, and she considered it her obligation to continue supporting the company by holding on to those assets. She held them for decades against advice to sell or diversify, watching their value fall until the Whirlpool acquisition finally forced her to take action – at a significant loss.

    When she tells me I should be working for a corporation, she is remembering corporations as they used to be – companies that were worth supporting because they considered their employees of value and worthy of investment.

    Self-employeed as I am, paid vacations and the provision of health care benefits by someone else are a thing of the past. But I’m fairly sure I can go to work and not be shoved into a taxi.

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