May 1, 2006

Few restaurants closed during boycott

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Many immigrant-owned taco stands
and a few fast-food outlets were closed on Monday, but most
U.S. restaurants reported no shortage of busboys and cooks
despite a national boycott and major protests by
pro-immigration activists.

In Los Angeles' predominantly Latino neighborhood of Echo
Park, mom-and-pop bakeries joined other businesses in closing
for the day. The same was true in a largely Hispanic area of
Jersey City, New Jersey, where a normally busy Mexican
restaurant was closed at lunch time.

A shortage of workers also extended to some chains.
McDonald's Corp., for instance, said some of its restaurants
were operating with limited staff or were just running their
drive-thrus. A Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. spokesman said 29 of
its 500 restaurants were closed and added that the absenteeism
"was not a surprise."

Overall, however, experts said most restaurants were
operating normally and estimated the rallies would have a
limited impact on the industry since many had rejigged their
schedules to accommodate workers who wanted the day off.

"The actual economic damage will be minimal because they
will be able to double up on shifts," said Malcolm Knapp,
president of restaurant research firm Malcolm M. Knapp Inc.

In downtown Los Angeles, employees at several popular lunch
spots said everyone had come to work. Eateries at the Westfield
Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jersey, also reported
no lack of workers and a spokeswoman for Starbucks Corp. said
the chain did not have to close or pare back the hours for any
of its coffee shops.

A spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association,
Chrissy Shott, said the trade group had heard that many
restaurants were being more flexible with shifts or sending one
or two employees to the rallies as representatives. She could
not estimate how many of the restaurant industry's 1.6 million
immigrant workers had asked for the day off or stayed home.

Major restaurant companies such as IHOP Corp., Applebee's
International Inc. and Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants
Inc. said they had been planning for Monday's rallies for
several weeks.

"This is definitely a situation that we were able to plan
for," said Applebee's spokesman Frank Ybarra, who added that
employees in Texas and California had shown the most interest
in taking the day off.

IHOP spokesman Patrick Lenow said some of the chain's
restaurants were prepared to offer a limited menu or even close
if staff failed to show up for work, but added those plans had
not been implemented.

"We have not heard of any difficulties," he said.

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller, Chelsea Emery,
Robert MacMillan and Anupama Chandrasekaran in New York and
Alexandria Sage in Los Angeles)