The Ethical Guide to Eating Out

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Anyone who has waited tables or cooked in a restaurant kitchen knows the backbreaking work, the questionable conditions, and the meager rewards. Now, it’s easy to find the restaurants that treat their employees right with the 2012 National Diners’ Guide, presented by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). The guide outlines the pay and benefits of 186 of the country’s most popular eateries, from fast food to fine dining.

Before you look at the guide to see where your favorite establishment stands, check out some of the reasons why the ROC says the ethical treatment of restaurant workers is vital:

With a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers and $7.25 for non-tipped workers, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just below the poverty line for a family of three. This means that more than half of all restaurant workers nationwide earn less than the federal poverty line.

90 percent of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center report not having paid sick leave, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick, making sick leave for restaurant workers not only a worker rights issue but a pressing concern in public health!

Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many opportunities to move up the ladder. Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 73 percent reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.

Jaeah Lee at Mother Jones has distilled the ROC’s guide into an excellent Zagat-like reference for diners. (See, at a glance, that Starbucks’ employees don’t get paid sick days, but Chipotle’s do.) And, also on MoJo, Utne Reader visionary Tom Philpott takes a moment to look on the bright side of the report, pointing out that the “ROC isn’t just dishing up the restaurant industry’s dark secrets. It’s also working with restaurant owners across the country to come up with fair labor standards.”

For me, waiting tables at the Tic Toc Supper Club at the end of my teenage years was a crash-course in a range of adult matters: wine bottles are harder to open with a tableful of people watching; wearing a skirt gets you better tips; and the boss will rarely give you more than the bare minimum of what is required by law. Thanks to the ROC, restaurants just might be encouraged to give that bare minimum a boost.

Sources: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Mother Jones

Image by rbnlsn, licensed under Creative Commons.

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