ROC Publishes Studies in five U.S. regions point to national trends in growing restaurant industry

Today, a new series of reports shows that the U.S. restaurant industry is resilient despite the bad economy and continues to offer job opportunities as the nation’s largest private sector employer. At the same time, the reports explore the pervasiveness of “low road” restaurant jobs – characterized by low wages, hazardous working conditions, long hours and few benefits – that result in a drag on economic growth and threats to public health. An executive summary – based on studies in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, New York and Maine – recommends increasing the federal tipped minimum wage and providing paid sick days to improve working conditions and make the restaurant industry an even stronger driver for the U.S. economy.

“While some restaurants are making a profit offering living wages and health benefits, most restaurant employers take the low road, which leads to dangerous working conditions that put customers’ health at risk and jeopardize the industry’s long-term growth,” said Jose Oliva, Policy Coordinator for ROC United.

The following are key findings from the series of reports, Behind the Kitchen Door:

    • Nationwide, and in each of the five regions studied, the restaurant industry is vibrant, resilient, and growing, despite the recession.


  • With nearly 13 million workers nationwide, the restaurant industry is America’s largest private employer.



  • Many restaurant employers in each of the five regions examined appear to be taking the low road, creating a predominantly low-wage industry in every region and around the country in which violations of employment and health and safety laws are commonplace.



  • More than 90% of restaurant workers surveyed reported that they do not have health insurance through their employers.



  • In all five regions studied, it is largely workers of color who are concentrated in the industry’s “bad jobs,” while white workers tend to disproportionately hold the few “good jobs.”


Restaurant employers who take the high road are the source of the best jobs in the industry. High road employers provide living wages, access to health benefits, and advancement in the industry. Slows Bar B Q, a socially responsible and sustainable restaurant in Detroit, offers employees affordable health care, pays a living wage and promotes a clear path to career development – resulting in dozens of local jobs in the economy and exceeding sales expectations, making close to $4 million in the company’s fourth year.

“Taking the high road with our employees pays off for our business, in higher loyalty, lower turnover and better customer service,” said Phil Cooley, owner of Slows Bar BQ. “With continuing growth in our industry, even during a bad economy, every restaurant can and should invest in our workers.”

Restaurants throughout the country have been faced the choice between the high and low roads to profitability for years. Many have struggled to train and retain a work force while paying only federal restaurant minimum wage, a meager $2.13 per hour before tips. With tips, the national median wage at restaurants is only $8.59 per hour or $12,868 per year.

To view the reports visit the ROC United webiste.