All Publications
BKD Bay

Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise of Opportunity in the San Francisco and Oakland Bay Area Restaurant Industry

In June 2016, ROC-The Bay released findings from one of the largest studies to date on the Bay Area’s restaurant workforce. “Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise of Opportunity in the San Francisco and Oakland Bay Area Restaurant Industry” draws on 525 worker surveys, 41 structured interviews with restaurant workers, and 20 structured interviews with employers, along with other industry and government data. The report details a range of problems with restaurant working conditions related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities.

Occupational segregation across the Bay Area is of particular concern, impacting the wages workers are able to earn. Workers of color experience a $6.12 wage disparity compared to white workers, and women experience a $3.34 wage disparity compared to men in fine dining occupations. This race pay gap is the largest ROC United has found around the country.

Key findings include:

  • The Bay Area’s restaurant industry is not a level playing field for people of color. White workers are more likely to work in higher-paying, Front-of-the-House positions, like bartenders and servers. Over half of all bartenders are white, despite being less than a quarter of the restaurant workforce overall. Additionally, workers of color are less likely to receive a raise or promotion than their white counterparts.

  • The same goes for women. Although they make up the vast majority of servers and bartenders, including servers in fine dining, they are dramatically underrepresented among bartenders in fine dining. Women surveyed made up 67% of all full service restaurant servers, and 84% of servers in fine dining, but only 41% of full service and 30% of fine dining bartending staff.

  • Wage violations are rampant. While service charges and tip pools that included Back-of-the-House workers helped balance income disparities between the Front and Back-of-the-House, they also created the potential for abuse as some employers used service charges to compensate supervisors, managers, owners, or to meet other business expenses. Additionally, workers expressed great concern over their ability to control their tips; a whopping 14% of respondents reported that management takes a share of gratuities earned on the job.

  • Exorbitant rent prices and gentrification are also of great concern. Restaurant workers in the Bay Area are paying on average $689 per month in rent, and must commute significant distances from lower-income areas with more affordable rents and sharing housing costs by living with more people. The average restaurant worker in the Bay Area lives in an apartment or home with 4 total residents, and 78.7% of restaurant workers do not work and live in the same city.

  • Many Bay Area employers are taking the High Road and offer living wages, access to benefits, training and advancement. Accordingly, they reported low employee turnover and high productivity as a result of living wages and access to benefits. However, some Bay Area employers lack formalized hiring, training, and promotion practices, and as a result, have reinforced occupational segregation in the restaurant industry.

  • Fair wages and benefits are still too often hard to come by. 52% of respondents report not having any form of health insurance coverage Additionally, twenty percent report having gone to the emergency room without being able to pay in the past year, nearly twice the rate we found in Seattle. Also, despite promising steps to raise wages for low-wage restaurant workers, 20% reported earning poverty wages.

  • Scheduling is anything but predictable. 26% of tipped restaurant workers experience frequent changes in their schedule, and an additional 50% of tipped workers sometimes experience changes in their schedule, compared to 16% and 43% of restaurant workers that do not receive tips. The majority of tipped workers are effectively expected to be on-call by their employers.

  • Workers are not receiving the raises and/or training they deserve. 73% of restaurant workers did not receive a raise in the last year, 22% reported they were passed over for a promotion, raise, or given worse shifts, 57% did not move up in position from their last restaurant job to their current one, and 54% do not receive ongoing job training.

  • Health and safety hazards abound. 91% of workers we spoke with have worked when their restaurant was understaffed. 28.8% reported doing something that put their own safety at risk. 29.3% have done something due to time pressure that might have harmed the health and safety of customers.

Read the full report.