More than half of all restaurant workers earn incomes below the federal poverty line, and workers of color are concentrated in the industry’s lowest-wage positions.
“Many restaurants serve up poverty wages, lack of sick leave, and discrimination,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of ROC United. “That’s a recipe for ever-growing wealth for restaurant chain CEOs and their Wall Street backers, but declining economic security for the 10 million families in America who rely on restaurant work. With this Guide, consumers can choose restaurants that put fairness and respect on their menu.”
“When you go out to eat, you shouldn’t get wage theft, racism, and sick cooks in the kitchen along with your meal,” said Eric Schlosser, author of the bestseller, Fast Food Nation, and executive producer of the film by the same name. “How the food tastes at a restaurant really doesn’t matter if the people who work there are being mistreated. This guide will help you separate the good guys from the bad.”
Josh Viertel, Founder and President of Slow Food USA added, “No matter how good the food, how local the ingredients, no one wants to support a restaurant that takes advantage of its workers. It is possible for restaurants to do the right thing and make money. ROC promotes that high road to profitability. ROC’s work helps people like you and me find restaurants that are doing right by their workers.”
Some restaurants are marked in the Guide as providing exceptional wages and working conditions, and others are noted as establishments from which workers have approached ROC United to file legal charges over illegal treatment.
In particular, restaurants belonging to the Darden Restaurant Company are marked in the Guide. Workers from the company’s Capital Grille Steakhouse restaurant chain have approached ROC complaining of racial discrimination, lack of breaks, and a hostile work environment. The Guide asks consumers to call Darden to let them know they do not approve of such illegal and discriminatory practices.
As the nation’s largest full-service chain, Darden owns and operates approximately 1,900 restaurants, including Capital Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, and 17 Seasons, and made more than a half billion dollars in net income in fiscal 2011. Major shareholders include J.P. Morgan Chase, State Street Corporation, Capital Research Global Investors, Lazard Asset Management, and other Wall Street banks and investment companies. Darden’s CEO, Clarence Otis Jr., is a former executive of J.P. Morgan; Kidder, Peabody & Company; and First Boston Corporation and in 2011 had compensation of $8,480,148 along with stock shares and options worth $22,126,933. Darden provides restaurant workers pay as low as $2.13 per hour for tipped employees and $7.25 per hour for non-tipped employees, and does not provide paid sick days.
“I experienced racial discrimination and was told that I ‘did not meet Capital Grille standards’,” said Keith Jones, a former server at the Capital Grille in Chevy Chase, Maryland who is African American. “As an industry leader, Capital Grille and Darden should set the standard in terms of equal opportunities for advancement and decent working conditions.”
The Guide includes “tip cards” that customers can tear out and leave with restaurant workers, managers, and owners, indicating support for fair pay and working conditions and telling them how to contact ROC United.
ROC United was founded after September 11th, 2001 to provide support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy. It has grown into a national restaurant workers organization with more than 8,000 members in eight states and has won agreements totaling $5 million for restaurant workers who faced illegal treatment.
ROC United works closely with more than 50 restaurant companies committed to a “high road” approach to workers and customers. One of the restaurants that received the Gold Prize top rating in the Diners’ Guide is Eatonville, a highly praised restaurant in Washington D.C.’s rejuvenated 14th and U Street dining district.
“We believe in the high road to restaurant management,” said Andy Shallal, Eatonville’s owner. “Paying a living wage and providing opportunities for advancement is how you build a sustainable business.”