Applebee's N.Y. Franchise Owner Says Obamacare Could Lead to Hiring Freeze

Applebee's clarified its position supporting affordable health care.

ByABC News
November 12, 2012, 11:23 AM

Nov. 12, 2012 — -- Applebee's is making clear that it is not on a firing rampage because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) after one franchisee was quoted saying that Obamacare is leading to a hiring and building freeze.

Zane Tankel, chairman and CEO of Apple-Metro, an Applebee franchisee for the New York metropolitan area, told Fox Business last week, "We've calculated it will [cost] some millions of dollars across our system. So what does that say — that says we won't build more restaurants. We won't hire more people."

Apple-Metro did not immediately return requests for comment. The company owns 40 Applebee's franchise restaurants.

Threats to boycott Applebee's have gone ablaze on Twitter after the interview, with one Twitter user writing with the hashtag #BoycottApplebees: "Hey @Applebees, Firing workers for political reasons is WRONG! My family will BOYCOTT YOU until you change your policy!"

Applebee's International president, Mike Archer, made clear that Tankel was speaking of his own accord.

"Recent public comments by one Applebee's franchisee about the possible implications of the ACA on jobs within his individual company were not the views or opinions of either Applebee's or other franchisees, although we respect his right to speak freely as an American," Archer said in a statement. "Importantly, it is also worth noting that this franchisee opened a new restaurant last week that created approximately 200 jobs, and will be opening another restaurant next month with a similar number of positions. Applebee's and our franchisees remain committed to growing our business and providing opportunities for employees in the future."

Archer said that the company and its franchise owners "recognize that affordable health care is a critically important issue facing our country."

"Because final regulations and guidance are still pending from government agencies regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), exactly how our franchisees will implement the law when it takes effect in 2014 is still uncertain," Archer said. "However, we do know that our franchisees will comply fully with the law and take every measure possible to continue doing right by their employees -- the lifeblood of their businesses. Applebee's franchisees have always led their companies as responsible, caring employers, and implementation of the new law will be consistent with that commitment."

Tankel said his restaurants employ 80 to 300 people per location. In the interview with Fox Business, he said restaurants can't raise prices in the current environment.

"I'm sure all our people are watching this right now so I don't want to make any commitments one way or another," Tankel said. "I want to simply say we're looking at it. We're evaluating it. If it's possible to do without cutting people back, I'm delighted to do it. But that also rolls back expansion. It rolls back hiring more people. And in the best case scenario, we only shrink the labor force minimally."

Papa John's CEO and Mitt Romney supporter John Schnatter last week also said he would likely reduce workers' hours as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Back in August, Schnatter said Papa John's pizza prices would increase by about 14 cents for a large pizza. His comments led some Facebook users to comment on Papa John's Facebook page that they would pay the extra 14 cents in order for employees to have health care.

In response, the company clarified Schnatter's comments, saying his remarks were in direct response to a question about the costs of complying with President Obama's health care law.

"We certainly understand the importance of healthcare to our customers, our employees, small business owners and their employees," the company said in a statement.