The Worst Restaurants to Work For

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine | Work + Money – Fri, Jun 15, 2012 

According to a guide released earlier this year by a group dedicated to workplace justice, some of the most popular fast-food, fine-dining, and family-friendly restaurants in the United States — including McDonald’s, The Capital Grille, andThe Olive Garden — are also the worst ones at which to work.

“We all enjoy eating out,” Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) writes on the website for its National Diners’ Guide 2012. “Unfortunately, the workers who cook, prepare, and serve our food suffer from poverty wages, no benefits like paid sick days, and little or no chance to move up to better positions. When the people who serve us food can’t afford to pay the rent or take a day off when they’re sick, our dining experience suffers.”

Related: The 10 best and worst restaurants

Ninety percent of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by ROC reported their employers did not offer employees paid sick leave. Two-thirds of those surveyed reported that their employees routinely cook, prepare, and serve food while sick.

Rich Jeffers, director of media relations for Darden Restaurants, owners of the Olive Garden,  the Capital Grille steakhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Red Lobster — all of which were called out in the survey over possible illegal practices because workers there have sought help for discrimination and wage theft — said the organization never reached out to Darden about how employees are compensated before publishing its guide. He noted the average hourly wage with tips for the chain’s wait staff is nearly $14.50, and the average hourly wage for a busser is $11. He took exception with a survey of 4,300 restaurant workers in an industry that employs 13 million people.

Workers are entitled to a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour if they do not receive tips and $2.13 per hour if they do, as well as overtime pay, if they work more than 40 hours per week; if tips and wages don’t add up to $7.25 per hour, the employer is obligated to make up the difference. But many workers aren’t aware that they’re entitled to payment for all of the hours they work, let alone at what rate, the guide noted. And a wage gap exists even among workers making the bare minimum that the government requires employers to pay. “Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many opportunities to move up the ladder,” the report found. “Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 73 percent reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.”

The guide, which was published in January but gained some newfound attention this week when theNew York Times’ Mark Bittman and others wrote about it, ranked 150 of the most profitable restaurants in the United States on how much their workers earn, whether they get paid sick leave, and what kind of chances they have for advancement. Darden’s Jeffers said 48.9 percent of its restaurant managers advance from entry-level positions, and that the company is keenly focused on upward mobility for its employees.

A sizable number of well-known restaurant chains earned “zero” ratings because they didn’t meet any of the minimum requirements for their workers — and, contrary to what you might think, there are more than a few high-end fine-dining establishments on the list. Take a look:

Bob Evans
Boston Market
Buffalo Wild Wings
Burger King
California Pizza Kitchen
The Cheesecake Factory
Chuck E. Cheese
Cracker Barrel
Dunkin Donuts
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Hard Rock Cafe
Legal Seafoods
Outback Steakhouse
P.F. Chang’s
Pizza Hut
Red Robin
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
TGI Friday’s
Taco Bell
Uno Chicago Grill

(You can find the entire list here.)

“When you go out to eat, you shouldn’t get wage theft, racism, and sick cooks in the kitchen along with your meal,” Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” writes in an endorsement of the ROC guide. “How the food tastes at a restaurant really doesn’t matter if the people who work there are being mistreated.”

There were a few good guys on the list, mostly local places in New York, Michigan, and California. But, nationally speaking, Five Guys Burgers and Fries — a national chain that oozes retro charm and a simple menu — received high marks across the board.