Several different factors can help market a restaurant to the public. Quality ingredients, good service and of course tasty food are the first to come to mind. Other standards must be met or exceeded to maintain a good public image. These are factors like food safety and ethical employee treatment.
Failure to meet expectations in theses areas can result in bad publicity and loss of business. Today diners are very interested in the ethical treatment of animals in the food industry and now they’re beginning to focus some of that attention on human rights in the industry. Creating a quality working environment for a restaurant staff is not only the right thing to do, it also helps market your business.
Some businesses in the restaurant industry have been exposed for poor treatment of employees, which draws diners’ attention to the issue. Providing workers with paid sick leave and proper wages will give you a leg up on the competition for all the right reasons.
According to the 2012 Diners’ Guide by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), some popular restaurants in America are not providing proper wages, benefits or advancement opportunities to their employees. ROC United is a nationwide organization that is dedicated to improving wages and working conditions for the low-wage restaurant workforce. The organization was founded after September 11, 2001 in New York City. ROC NY experienced a great deal of success and in 2008 the founders decided to take their cause to the national level. The organization currently has 8,000 low-wage restaurant workers and is growing fast.
The report states that many restaurant employees do not get paid sick leave. The ROC surveyed more than 4,300 restaurant workers and in this group 90% said they aren’t offered paid sick days. 2/3 of these people reported cooking, preparing or serving food while sick, potentially putting diners’ health at risk.
Some restaurant workers are not only denied paid sick days but they also receive extremely low wages while working. As reported in the Diners’ Guide more than half of restaurant workers nationwide are below the federal poverty line.
The last troubling trend highlighted by the Diners’ Guide is occupational segregation. The report says that employees are discriminated based on sex, race and immigration status in some restaurants when being considered for career advancement opportunities.
ROC United conducted 4,000 surveys in 8 American cities for a report entitled “Blacks in the Restaurant Industry Brief.” The brief found a gap in pay between black and white restaurant workers of more than $4.00/hr. ROC also discovered that in fine dining restaurants bartenders were 3 times more likely to be white than black and servers were 4 times more likely to be white.
ROC United Takes a Stand
The Diners’ Guide is an attempt to bring awareness to this growing issue and as a result fight back against poor working conditions. The ROC’s ultimate objectives for the Diners’ Guide is to raise the federal minimum wage for tipped workers, provide workers with paid sick days and to eliminate occupational segregation in the industry.
The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is currently $2.13. ROC believes this is not nearly enough for people trying to earn a living working in a restaurant. They are teaming with congress members and other organizations to pass the WAGES Act. This act would increase tipped minimum wage to $5.
ROC United is also teaming with a large group of organizations to support the Healthy Families Act. This bill would offer all people working in the United States 7 paid sick days. The bill would help support our public’s health by not forcing sick restaurant employees to report to work while they are sick and endangering the health of their customers in doing so.
ROC is also fighting back against occupational segregation by urging employers to have clear promotion policies that are based on time worked at the establishment and the quality of that work.
The Other Side of the Story
As a restaurateur the ROC’s Diners Guide must be troubling. If your restaurant is above the problem and treats employees correctly then this report is troubling because your business is being portrayed in a negative light by being grouped into the problems of the industry as a whole.
For restaurants that are not treating employees fairly this is eye-opening because of the possible repercussions in the form of lost business. Either way this is the time for restaurant owners to take a stand and make their own statement on how restaurants treat employees. Fair treatment of employees is both ethical and constructive. If your employees are treated right the quality of their work is likely to increase because they care more about the company and doing their part to improve business.
A few organizations opposed to the Diners’ Guide findings include the National Restaurant Association, Darden Restaurant Group and other advocates for the restaurant industry. These groups believe that the Diners’ Guide is an unjustified attempt to tarnish the industry’s image. They say that the restaurant industry is one of the largest job providers in the country and that they do not deserve this bad publicity.
Darden Restaurant Group restaurants were rated as some of the worst for ethical employee treatment in the Diners’ Guide. The company is accused of several different cases of wage theft, worker discrimination, paying poverty wages and not providing paid sick leave. An example of this alleged employee mistreatment comes from a Capital Grille located in Chevy Chase, MD. Employees claim that several African-American servers were fired because they didn’t “fit the company standard.”
Darden Restaurant Group is closely reviewing its own policy and evidence of how their employees are treated daily. According to Rich Jeffers, Darden’s director of media relations and external communications, the company believes the accusations of wage improprieties and racial discrimination from former employees and ROC are “baseless.”
The world’s largest full-service restaurant company says that to their knowledge they have done nothing wrong and point to awards they have received in the past in support of their case. Darden Restaurant Group has received awards from Black Enterprise and Diversity Inc. for being one of the top companies for diversity in the country. The company was listed in Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2011 and 2012. Finally, Darden also received the National Restaurant Association’s “Faces of Diversity Award” in 2007. Darden believes that its awarded track record is proof that it treats employees ethically.
The National Restaurant Association is standing behind Darden and other restaurants that were negatively exposed in the Diners’ Guide. NRA spokesman Scott Defife says the guide is a “transparent attempt to disparage” the restaurant industry. He goes on to point out that the industry has continued to be a leading job creator in the country.
These groups are united in their belief that ROC has not provided enough evidence for their findings and that the restaurant industry has not earned this negative publicity.
What You Can Do
Restaurant owners and managers are in a position where they can directly help solve this problem. It is pretty simple. If you are ethical about your employment practices then great, keep doing what you’re doing, but if not then fix them by doing what you know is right. Doing so will be obviously beneficial to your employees first of all but it will also be good for your brand’s public image.
With the new information circulating about poor treatment of restaurant employees diners will seek eateries that are above the problem. If you treat your workers right, then let people know and your business will be positively impacted.
The low wages and poor conditions that restaurant workers have to endure is a serious issue. In a time where the restaurant industry is beginning to take a stand for animal rights and sustainable farming practices it is time we stood up for the workers. Read the Diners’ Guide today and fight back by improving your employee treatment standards and informing others in the industry of this serious problem.