National Consumers League

Worker Rights

Worker Rights

Plight of restaurant workers making dining out unappetizing

attention open in a new window

Stressed waiter leaving restaurant kitchen with plateIt was recently restaurant week here in Washington, DC, when participating restaurants make dining out a little more affordable by offering discounted price-fixed meals. Eating out is a special treat for many consumers, but what about workers? NCL staff hit the streets leafletting downtown DC to let restaurant customers in on some facts about what workers in the industry experience -- and it turned many consumers' stomachs. If you’ve never worked in the restaurant industry, these facts might surprise you:

  • 88 percent of more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by Restaurant Opportunities Center report not having paid sick days so they often come to work sick to earn a paycheck. That means sick employees who should be at home resting are handling your food.
  • When customers leave a tip on the credit card receipt, servers don’t always get the full tip: it may go to pay part of the credit card fee or the restaurant may keep part.
  • 90 percent of surveyed restaurant workers – servers, bartenders, bussers – receive no health insurance through their employers.
  • When you eat out, you are subsidizing the restaurant industry’s low wages. Restaurant servers don’t receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour – they get only  $2.13 the federal tipped minimum wage. That wage has been the same for 21 years.
  • The median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90 an hour, just below the poverty line for a family of three.

Pretty shocking, isn’t it? These numbers may make dining out a little less appetizing. Is there anything consumers can do? Thankfully, there is. Here’s what you can do — and remember, you can always cast your “vote” for restaurant workers with your wallet; don’t patronize restaurants that don’t treat their workers fairly — and be sure to tell them why you’re taking your patronage to places that do!

What you can do to help:

  • Inquire whether your favorite restaurants allow their staffs to earn sick leave. Did you know that 63 percent of surveyed restaurant workers admitted to cooking or serving food while sick at some point during the past year? This is a public safety issue as much as it is a workers’ rights one.
  • Pay your tip in cash so it will all go to your server
  • Inquire whether your favorite restaurants provide access to health insurance
  • Urge your favorite restaurants to join with more than 50 other restaurant owners in 8 cities that have partnered with ROC to promote improved wages and working conditions for workers who cook, prepare and serve our food.

ROC United, or Restaurant Opportunities Centers United – an organization representing restaurant workers – is asking restaurant owners to become members of the Restaurant Industry Roundtable to support higher wages for tipped and non-tipped workers, to provide sick leave and health insurance for all employees, and to provide opportunities to move up the ladder for all workers. And a new bill in Congress would raise the federal minimum wage for tipped employees for the first time in decades. Remember your power as a consumer and exercise it!