• 12.05.11

A Guide To Choosing Restaurants That Treat Employees Right

Low pay, no sick days, no opportunity for advancement: This is standard in America’s restaurants. Are there any places you can support that are doing it better?

Anyone who has worked at a restaurant knows how grueling the industry can be, but it’s hard to gauge how well your local Chili’s treats its employees unless you know someone who works there. The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) this week unveiled its 2012 Diners’ Guide–a comprehensive look at the benefits, wages, and promotion guidelines of the 150 most popular restaurants in the U.S. If you want to support fair restaurant practices, this is the place to turn.


The guide judges restaurants on a handful of factors: tipped worker wages, non-tipped worker wages, paid sick days (90% of the 4,300-plus restaurant workers surveyed by the ROC don’t have this), opportunities for advancement, and whether the restaurant belongs to the ROC’s Restaurant Industry Roundtables–employers that work to “promote the high road to profitability in the industry.”

The ROC mobilized students from Tulane University and UCLA to survey restaurant workers from the 150 highest revenue-grossing restaurants in the U.S., as well as from the ROC’s “high road” restaurant partners. The results are disheartening, as you can see here. For example, Chili’s pays less than $5 an hour for workers who receive tips, a minimum wage of less than $9 for workers who don’t receive tips, no paid sick days, and offers promotions to fewer than 50% of its employees (that’s what the “0” means).

ChaYa, on the other hand, pays at least $5 an hour for tipped employees, $9 for non-tipped employees and offers sick days–but it only has locations throughout California. We’d love to be able to point out national restaurants that are treating their workers above and beyond expectations, but they don’t exist. Local joints generally offer a better quality of work than their national and regional counterparts, but even these are lacking. The ROC rates only five restaurants as good in all of its categories. Most are in New York and none are casual dining: Colors, Cowgirl, Craft, Crema, and Danny Meyer‘s Union Square Hospitality.

So next time you’re thinking about going to dinner, take the ROC guide with you–or at least think twice about how fairly your server is being treated.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.