Chain Restaurants and the Disappearing Middle-Class
Monopoly Capital Is Swallowing The Middle-Class
To continue on the trend of generational competition and analysis that brought you the baby-boomer and the gen-x soccer dad, the business press has an obsession with millennials. Who amongst us hasn’t read about how millennials are the darnedest thing, too lazy to work and too radical to fit into the traditional lives of their fore-bearers. The latest in this genre of clickbait gallery news article, “‘Psychologically scarred’ millennials are killing countless industries from napkins to Applebee’s,” inadvertently shows the trends that mark a decline in the general economic and practical outlooks of those on the neoliberal treadmill of the post 2008 financial crash.
The flagship trend of the article is the economic faltering of the “casual dining chain”, companies like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s. These suburban chapels of reheating and fortune 500 brand alcohol have been underperforming expectations quarter after quarter. In August, Applebee’s announced the closure of 135 stores, blaming its failures on a strategy of attempting to attract millennials and forget its “Middle American roots.”
It may be shocking that the franchise which makes an 11.79 Dollar All Day Burger — a ketchup-drenched bacon cheese burger with hash browns and a fried egg — is faltering in this 2017 stage of late capitalism. One is to presume the burger is called the All-Day burger because it is the only thing you will do all day after entering a sodium laced coma. Once you leave Applebee’s you need to drive your car directly to your subdivision to pass the fuck out.
These losses for a company like Applebee’s are not exclusively related to multilevel marketing campaigns, like highlighting their wood-fire steaks to bring in all the Lumineers-style heritage bro’s to the casual dining experience. These restaurants are expressly targeted at the exact kind of class disappearing from the country: the middle-class suburbanite who can go out to eat 3 or 4 times a week to a place like Applebee’s, someone who’s among the top 50–70 percent annual income in the country
This middle-class, like those below them on the economic ladder, have borne the brunt of an era of massive wealth redistribution and exploitation. Labor’s productivity continues to expand, especially with investments in education and technology, yet this class is consistently lagging behind the top of the economic system. These trends show a dissipation of the middle class power base of the liberal socioeconomic consensus that drove America in the 20th century.
I will not shed a tear for the slow evaporation of these corporate monoliths that pop up every three exits on the highway. Like Walmart, their presence in the market pushed out local businesses, edging us towards an even more complete national monoculture in the name of economic freedom. However, their faltering highlights the growing inequality within our society, where younger adults are less likely to own homes, make a decent living, and afford to just casually go out to eat.
While emphasizing the millennial destruction of middle American values like casual dining, beer, motorcycles, football, and, of course, napkins, Business Insider never addresses the economic dimensions to these trends. When they speak about the faltering of NFL viewership, they highlight how fewer millennials have cable than other generations, saying that millennials have opted for different ways of watching television like watching games in groups or on their phone. Business Insider opts to frame this fact as a social and cultural trend operating in a classless vacuum, ignoring the cost of a 125 dollar cable bill every month for those making 35,592 dollars a year, the average yearly income for those between 16 and 34.
These cuts made by Applebee’s are fitting within the lore of the company’s history as a symbol of the Middle America fetishized by the political center. September 4th, 2017 marks the ten year anniversary for the tome of peak Washington consensus, Applebee’s America. In this book, three veterans of the post-90’s Higher Broderist era interview people at exurban Applebee’s across the country to find the truth about the American Voter. Co-author Ron Fournier, ever the doofish centrist, looks forward towards a “Generation 9–11”. This generation, he posed, would be “more optimistic, civic minded, and politically active” than any other generation. A year after “Applebee’s America” was published, Lehmann Brother’s collapsed, pushing the post Cold War economic project into a panic, radicalizing a generation through the hard truth of the modern capitalism.
Damn right millennials are “psychologically scarred.” No generation has been so constantly impacted by the system that is neoliberalism, with billions of us feeling crushed by a flattening of society and economic system that is built to funnel wealth to the wealthy and working the rest to the bone. The expansion of monopoly power in every facet of our lives is heightening the singular stratification of our societies between the owners and everyone else. Fournier was right, millennials are becoming more politically engaged than ever before, just maybe a little more to the left than the ex-John McCain sycophant may have imagined. This is the price of inequality.