Research & Resources

ROC provides the most comprehensive information available on the United States restaurant industry, and resources for workers, employers, and consumers to take action on the important industry challenges the research demonstrates. On the following links, learn about what our research has shown, and how you can take action to improve the industry for everyone.


ROC engages in worker-led research projects using rigorous methodology that show conclusive evidence that change is needed to create a sustainable restaurant industry in which employers, workers, and diners prosper together.  These research projects have documented extensive poverty, wage theft, health and safety hazards, lack of benefits such as paid sick days and health insurance, sexual harassment, and race and gender discrimination.  ROC’s primary research includes over 5000 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.

Our findings:

  • The restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing industries and has become one of the major employers in the United States. There are over 10.1 million workers in the restaurant industry, which is nearly one in every ten private sector employees.


  • Despite its size and growth, the industry suffers from pervasively low wages and wage theft. 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.


  • The pervasive lack of benefits in the industry strains workers and puts consumers at risk.  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.


  • Occupational segregation and discrimination on the basis of race and gender has resulted in people of color, and women of color in particular, being concentrated in the industry’s lowest-paid positions. Our survey research has shown that the median wage amongwhite restaurant workers isalmost $4 per hour higher than the median wage amongrestaurant 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 toapply to the same fine dining restaurant for the same server position.  Our matched pair audit testing has shown that in New York, white applicants were twice as likely (54.5%) to receive a job offer as a person of color, even though the applicantsof color were always assigned slightly higher qualifications for the job.


  • Gender inequality is widespread: 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.  Moreover, women of color have seen particular challenges facing disproportionate segregation in the quick serve, the lowest paying segment.


Please find more detailed information in each of the two dozen research reports that ROC-United has authored.