our work

The ROC Model

With over 14 million employees nationwide, the restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing private sector employers in the nation. In 2007, the restaurant industry garnered over $515 billion in sales revenue. The industry continues to grow despite the current economic crisis. Unfortunately, despite the growth and profitability of the industry, restaurant jobs provide largely low wages and little access to benefits.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) engages people who work in the industry, employers and consumers to improve wages and working conditions in the restaurant industry. The ROC-United model involves “surrounding the industry” by simultaneously:

(1) Engaging those who work in the restaurant industry through job training and placement (COLORS Restaurants and our CHOW job training program); leadership development and civic engagement; legal support and policy advocacy while being guided by movement leaders across the country from the National Leadership Network (NLN), which guides ROC‘s work nationally.

(2) Engaging employers through our “high road” employer association RAISE, which provides: training, technical assistance, and a peer network of like-minded employers following the high road to profitability, which includes higher wages and working conditions for those employedat their restaurants; leadership development and civic engagement opportunities; research and communications work that documents the benefits for all three stakeholders of taking the high road and more.

(3) Engaging consumers through Diners United, a conscious consumer association, We engage consumers in expressing their personal and financial support for high road restaurants and encouraging others to join RAISE and take the ‘high road. Diners United mobilizes consumers to communicate with legislators and vote for improved wages and working conditions for people who work in the industry; and support ROC‘s work.

We have over 25,000 members who work in the industry, over 200 restaurant owner members, and thousands of consumer members nationwide, with affiliates in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Washington (Seattle), California (Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area), Louisiana, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. Workers, employers, and consumers are mobilizing for higher wages and race and gender equity through our “One Fair Wage” campaign, and for greater mobility in the industry for people of color who work in the industry through our Racial Equity Project in California.

One Fair Wage

Through the ONE FAIR WAGE campaignROC is fighting nationally to eliminate the two-tiered wage system by raising the separate, lower minimum wage for those who work for tips in the restaurant industry to match the regular minimum wage, so that no one has to experience the financial insecurity, discrimination, and sexual harassment that comes with being forced to live off tips.

Seven states – California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Montana, and Minnesota – have already established One Fair Wage for all. These seven states have the same wage for people in the industry who work for tips and those who do not, and the same or comparable rates of tipping on top of wages, which proves that paying all workers one fair wage does not reduce or eliminate tips. 

We’re on the way to victory to grow the list of states with One Fair Wage, with a growing number of cities and states considering moving to One Fair Wage through legislation or ballot measures. In November 2016, the people of Maine and Flagstaff, AZ voted to join the seven states listed above in eliminating the lower wage for those who work for tips in the restaurant industry.  Meanwhile, restaurant employers nationwide – both large and small — are adopting business models that prioritize a living wage for their employees, including by establishing an equitable base wage for tipped and non-tipped employees.

One Fair Wage allows those who work in the industry to receive a fair base wage & their tips on top. We must make clear that One Fair Wage allows those who work in the industry to increase their overall income because tipping will still be allowed.

Learn more at onefairwage.com

promoting the high road


ROC’s national restaurant employer association RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment) provides restaurant owners with a path to the high road to profitability.  By taking this path, members can promote sustainable business practices for employees and consumers while boosting their bottom line. ROC now works with 200 employer partners around the country.

Through a collaboration of restaurant owners, those employed in the industry, government agencies, city officials, and ROC members and staff, RAISE offers owners access to critical information, an invaluable support network, and problem-solving opportunities. Regardless of what stage their business is in, members share a multitude of concerns and issues: How do I find qualified employees, stay in compliance, retain great employees, provide family-supporting benefits, and improve health and safety conditions? RAISE facilitates the learning and sharing of best practices.

What is the High Road to Profitability? Taking the High Road to Profitability is an ethical, pragmatic and, we believe, profitable approach to doing business that benefits employers, employees, consumers and the community. ROC works with employers to promote sustainable best practices that positively impact industry employees’ wages and working conditions to the benefit of all through the Restaurant Industry Roundtables.

RAISE provides restaurant owners with a path to the High Road to Profitability.  By taking this path, members can promote sustainable business practices for employees and consumers while boosting their bottom line. ROC now works with more than 200 ‘high road’ employer partners around the country.

Through a collaboration of restaurant owners, those who work in the industry, government agencies, city officials and ROC staff, RAISE offers owners access to critical information, an invaluable support network, and problem-solving opportunities. Regardless of what stage their business is in, members share a multitude of concerns and issues: How do I stay in compliance, keep great employees, provide health care insurance, find qualified workers, improve health and safety conditions? RAISE is the place to learn and share best practices.

Read our report – Taking The High Road: A How-To Guide for Successful Restaurant Employers – to learn specific strategies for improving working conditions while increasing profitability at your restaurant! Highlighting a number of ROC Restaurant Industry Roundtable members such as Zingerman’s, CRAFT restaurant group, and Good Girl Dinette, the employers featured in this report tell you how the high road benefits the bottom line.

Interested in joining? Fill out the application or find resources at www.rocunited.org/resources/for-employers or visit the RAISE website at www.raiserestaurants.org


Diners United is a growing community of diners that demand sustainable labor practices from the restaurants in which they eat. With your help, we can ensure the workers who put food on our tables can afford to put food on their own at the end of the night. Join us and help build a just and fair restaurant industry by supporting businesses that reflect your values.


With over 20 million workers nationwide, the US food industry is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of our economy. The restaurant industry employs over 14 million workers, but unfortunately, it is also the lowest-paying employer in America.

Diners United works with ROC United’s ONE FAIR WAGE campaign – mobilizing states around the country to eliminate their subminimum wage for tipped workers so that employers pay all their employees at least the minimum wage.  As diners, one can be part of building a sustainable food system and thriving local economies that are good for all of us.

Click here to learn more about Diners UnitedBe sure to use our National Diners Guide every time you dine out. Get it here!

Creating Career Ladders

COLORS Restaurants

COLORS – part restaurant, part training-facility, part worker-owned cooperative incubator.

The first COLORS was founded in NYC by workers from more than 20 different countries. Now also in Detroit, COLORS continues to expand, with locations opening in D.C., New Orleans, and more.

COLORS offers eaters a worldly ambiance and a global cuisine made of quality, local and seasonal ingredients sourced from producers who practice sustainable agriculture, fair trade, workplace practices that ensure employees get paid sustainable wages.

COLORS provides free restaurant-skills training to hundreds of workers, helping them move up the industry’s career ladder. Workers have the opportunity to intern at COLORS, prepare meals, as well as serve and tend bar. Leaders from the local restaurant industry help ROC’s staff instruct the interns and guide their training. This experience affords many the opportunity to obtain placement in living wage jobs in the industry.

             COLORS in New York City          COLORS in Detroit, Michigan

For more information about COLORS, please contact Rosanne Martino at rosanne [at] rocunited [dot] org.

COLORS Hospitality Opportunities for Workers (CHOW) Institute

In an effort to raise the standards for restaurant owners and workers, the COLORS Hospitality Opportunities for Workers (CHOW) Institute provides in-depth and advanced professional training in both front- and back-of-the-house restaurant skills at no cost to either employers or employees.

Operated with guidance and support from RAISE employers, CHOW offers workers a multi-tiered curriculum, certificates, and support services to help participants advance to living-wage jobs in the industry, particularly fine dining wait staff, bartender, and management positions. Participants have the opportunity to practice and refine their customer service skills in a supportive, instructional, real-life restaurant setting both prior to and during employment at restaurants throughout the country.

ROC’s commitment is demonstrated by its success in training and placing restaurant workers. ROC trains over 1,000 employees nationwide each year, with a living wage job placement rate of 60-75%, depending on the location. Additionally, in a growing number of cities, ROC is partnering with local community colleges so that CHOW graduates can receive college credit for their job skills training.

For more information on a CHOW program near you, contact a local ROC affiliate office in your area!


Over the past 15 years of ROC’s work organizing and conducting research on the restaurant industry, occupational segregation by race has emerged as one of the highest priority challenges faced by restaurant workers nationwide. In particular, ROC’s reports called The Great Service Divide documented the extent of racial discrimination and segregation in the industry, which revealed significant racial wage gaps and barriers to workers of color to advance to livable-wage jobs in the industry. ROC is currently undertaking a comprehensive research initiative to study the explicit and implicit biases of restaurant employers and consumers that will inform the design of local policy efforts to desegregate the restaurant workforce.


ROC Research

ROC United provides the most comprehensive information available on the United States restaurant industry.

ROC United also provides resources for workers, employers, and consumers to take action on the important industry challenges. Our research has lifted the veil on the real-life experiences of America’s restaurant workers, sparking and adding depth to important national conversations on the alarming rates of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. Over the past 16 years, ROC has published more than 32 research studies and two books on the industry.

ROC’s research projects utilize rigorous methodology and show conclusive evidence that change is needed to create a sustainable restaurant industry in which employers, workers, and diners prosper together. ROC’s primary research includes over 5,000 surveys of restaurant workers, hundreds of in-depth interviews with employers and workers, and matched pair audit testing.  ROC’s research also draws on government data and academic literature to illustrate the size and scope of the problems that are being documented.


It has become one of the major employers in the United States. There are over 12 million workers in the restaurant industry, which amounts to 1 in 12 Americans working in the industry.

Government data shows that the median wage in the restaurant industry is only $8.89, which means that over half of restaurant workers earn below the federal poverty line for a family of three.  This is not surprising, given that the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13. Moreover, our survey work has shown that over one third (35.1%) of restaurant workers have had to work “off the clock” for no pay, and almost half (43.9%) have worked overtime with being paid the legally mandated 150% overtime wage.

Our survey research has demonstrated that almost 9 out of 10 restaurant workers lack paid sick days (87.7%) and health insurance from their employer (89.7%). As a result of the fact that workers cannot afford to take care of themselves or stay home when they are sick, two-thirds of restaurant workers (63.6%) working sick, unnecessarily placing co-workers and diners at risk.

Our survey research has shown that the median wage among white restaurant workers is almost $4 per hour higher than the median wage among restaurant workers of color. We have documented that people of color are frequently segregated into the lowest-paying industry segments and the lowest-paying positions within these segments.  We have used matched pair audit testing, in which a white and people of color applicants with the same qualifications, appearance, and personality characteristics are sent to apply to the same fine-dining restaurant for the same server position.  Our matched pair audit testing in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York has shown that, white applicants are twice as likely to receive a job offer as a person of color, even though the applicants of color were always assigned slightly higher qualifications for the job.

Census analysis has shown that female restaurant workers suffer a 21.8% gender tax even after experience, education, and English language ability are accounted for.  Our interviews repeatedly show the extent of sexual harassment that women restaurant workers face: in fact, 90% of tipped workers report experiencing unwanted sexual comments or behaviors in the workplace.  Moreover, women of color have seen particular challenges facing disproportionate segregation in the quick serve, the lowest paying segment.