Progressive Foodies??? (Participation)

Published November 7, 2014 by djlwsu

The Hypocrisy of Foodies: Restaurant Worker Abuse

We care more about how chickens and cows have been treated than we do about the people who cook and serve our food

Our growing, conscientious food culture has put a priority on eating all things sustainable, local, organic and free-range. Though most foodies would never step foot in a McDonald’s, they would happily eat at a farm-to-table restaurant where food is sourced according to the highest standards.

And yet, here’s the unspoken hypocrisy. We give more thought to how the chickens and cows on our plate have been treated than we do about the people who cook and serve our food. Restaurant workers hold six of the 10 lowest-paying occupations in the U.S., earning less, on average, than farm workers and domestic workers. Just 20% of restaurant jobs pay a living wage, and women, people of color and immigrants are often barred from getting these living-wage positions.

It is “the chasm between American food values and business practices,” writes Saru Jayaraman, founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and author of the new book Behind the Kitchen Door.

The restaurant industry can’t blame the recession: it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy, with annual job-growth rate of 3.4% in 2012, double the growth rate of overall U.S. employment. At the same time, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 an hour for more than 20 years. In 2010, the median wage for restaurant workers was $9.02 an hour, including tips, which amounts to a wage below the federal poverty line for a family of four.

Jayaraman cites examples of rampant exploitation and discrimination. Light-skinned employees are regularly hired and promoted above darker-skinned employees, even when the latter may have more experience and knowledge of the menu and serving customers. Abusive labor practices also prevent restaurant workers from benefits such as sick days, which subsequently poses a serious public-health threat. In 2011, the CDC reported that almost 12% of restaurant workers said that they worked while suffering from flu symptoms, vomiting, or diarrhea on two or more shifts in the last year. Not surprisingly, the CDC also cited restaurants as the third most frequent setting for outbreaks of foodborne illness (after cruise ships and long-term care facilities).

Jayaraman puts the onus on the public, the government and the newly formed organization RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment) to raise awareness of these labor issues. “The regular National Restaurant Association represents the voice of big business and not the voice of the employees,” Jayaraman says. “I’ve received hundreds of emails from restaurant owners, Washington lobbyists and people all over the country saying we didn’t know this and we’re outraged.” But in an industry that has become so high-profile, one also wonders why more celebrity chefs aren’t as outspoken about improving these conditions as they are about protecting the nation’s palate. Jayaraman has cited Tom Colicchio, who pays sick days and overtime, encourages promotion and offers English classes to workers, as an exemplary employer for the industry. Colicchio operates 25 restaurants across four states in the Craft and ‘Wichcraft groups and is ultimately responsible for some 400 employees, but that’s only a fraction of the 13 million restaurant workers in the United States.

“I don’t pay my workers a fair rate for press,” Colicchio says. “We treat our staff fairly because it’s the right thing to do.” Perhaps we need a new kind of reality TV cook-off: Top Chef, the Fair Labor Edition.

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8 comments on “Progressive Foodies??? (Participation)

  • Coming from someone who has worked in the restaurant business and has family who has owned a restaurant, this article is completely true. Although I was treated very well in my restaurant job, I was placed second to the food. If the service was bad we would get complaints, but if the food was bad, we wouldn’t get any customers. When the restaurant I was working at started up the service was awesome but the food was really bad and no customers came. Then we switched chefs and the food got really good, when that happened we were packed almost 4 nights a week. Resturants put food over their employees because the food is the money maker. It sucks being an employee at a restaurant because you work so hard and take a lot of crap from people for pretty much nothing. Just like in the video from class, even if waiters/waitresses provide excellent service the food is still the deciding factor for the tip.

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  • I have never worked or been apart of any job in the restaurant industry however I have heard stories from family members and have personally observed the way that workers get treated by the people they are serving. The truth is customers expect so much because they are paying so that they don’t have to cook, clean up, and serve themselves at home. When money is coming out of someones pocket they are going to expect everything to be perfect (The food AND the service) not just one or the other. If only one meets their standards then they are probably not going to give as much of a tip as they would if both were good. This sucks for servers because they are not the ones cooking the meals so they really have no control over how it comes out or whether or not the costumer likes it. All they can do is be a good server because that is what their job is and a lot of people tend to forget that.

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  • I haven’t worked at any type of restaurant before but I know that the workers do not get treated well especially from the customers. As customers we always expect more than we do and feel like we should be their main priorities even if they have others to serve. When I was at a restaurant, while we were waiting on our drinks to come my cousin kept repeating “deduction on the tip” because it didn’t come as quickly as she wanted it. Customers are not the only ones that are selfish and only care about their food/service; Owners and managers of restaurants do not care about their employees like they should be doing. “Our latest research shows that in every city across the United States in which we conducted surveys with restaurant workers, the restaurants that mistreated their workers were more likely to engage in unsafe food-handling practices that sicken customers. It made sense- if a restaurant was not a responsible employer, how could we expect that restaurant to be responsible with our health and safety?”(Sarumathi Jayaraman, Behind the Kitchen Door). We see how they get treated thinking the workers are use to it and only make it worse for them.

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  • Progressive Foodies remind me of Gentrification. However that will be another topic. I’m appalled and shocked at that 2.13 ! who ha ever in the united states lived healthy, happy , and safely on that? And no Healthcare! As we learned from the previous unit Stress leads to sickness, and that wage as-well as the mistreatment of workers will do just that. Restaurant owners like Tom and Diep Tran( good girl Dinette , Behind Kitchen Doors) are great examples of successful fair workers treatment.

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  • Although I have worked in the restaurant buisness I have never actually noticed the inequalities that go on. I worked in a local restaurant that is now growing, but is still only in Washington. Thinking back after watching some of the video in class I can now see some of the inequalities that are pointed out throughout the video. All the bussers at the restaurant I worked at were Latino and as for the servers a majority of them were lighter colored. And although where I worked we were closely knit with the management and Im sure there was no intention in discrimination, there is a an unseen cycle, it is “locked-in.”
    I am a total foodie and am obsessed with food network, and the thought that celeberites have not promoted better conditions for restaurant workers but they are always making shows to promote how to cook food safely and properly is intresting. I think if celebrity chefs were more outspoken about the conditions of restaurant workers, customers all over would become more aware, and the conditions of how restaurant workers are treated and the issue that come with working in a restaurant could be more easily resolved.

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  • It was so shocking to me to see how little people in the restaurant industry are paid being that it is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. What was more shocking to me is that the restaurant industry is the third highest person to contain food borne illnesses. This make me want to be more precautious about going out to eat being that I do it so much when I am at home as far as going to places that are nicer and more clean. This isn’t something that I really thought about on a daily basis before I heard about this. It really freaks me out to think that people that are sick are preparing my food. Although it may not be right for people to be going to work knowing that they are sick, but at the same time these people are not being paid enough. I don’t think that people working in the business are intentionally trying to get people sick but at the same time they have to think about themselves because it could make a huge difference in whether they get that grocery trip to Safeway or not. It makes me sad that it has to come to this for restaurant workers because it isn’t really their fault that they are getting paid less than 10 dollars an hour.

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  • I agree 100% with this article. Although I have never worked at a restaurant I have worked fast food and a lot of things are very similar. Fast food workers will see their hours diminish or be somewhat punished for being sick and definitely being put behind the food they make. Yes, I was in high school and did not rely on tips to pay bills but the food industry overall needs a huge change, waiters/waitresses are treated awfully and I’ve heard that for years. To make an average of $9.02 an hour including tips is outrageous, which is very well under most minimum wages in some states. For restaurants to pay their hardest workers unfairly is sick, the workers that have to put up with all the rude customers that complain about food they didn’t even make then get tipped terribly for doing nothing wrong. They at least deserve minimum wage. Of course the restaurants can afford to pay their workers more but they do not. It breaks my heart to see that. Also to see that it is the fastest growing industry in America and some restaurants still refuse to pay them more for their work. That is for sure something that needs to be changed in America.

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  • Having not worked in a restaurant before, this problems really had not been brought to my attention until this class. It is pretty amazing to think that for as much money restaurants generate, they still compensate the people who make it that way as if they are going out of business. The statistics in this article and in the book seem almost unbelievable. I knew it was hard for people to live off of their restaurants wages, but only 20% is alarming. The tipped minimum wage has also reached a ridiculous point. It is stubborn to think that the cost of living has stayed the same for the past 20 years. What used to be able to be purchased with a $2.13 wage is not nearly on the same scale today. Restaurants have their minds focused strictly on the food rather than the employers who generate the money, actual people rather than food. America needs to stress that people should be compensated fairly for their work, which is what the minimum wage is for, but still has been getting worked around. Restaurant workers frequently do not end up making minimum wage yet have to report that they do. They have been treated poorly for a long time and change is needed within the industry.

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