October 22, 2014
Contact: Maria Myotte, maria [at] rocunited [dot] org, 720.352.6153

New Report: Widespread Race And Gender Discrimination In Restaurant Industry’s Living Wage Jobs

White Applicants Twice As Likely As Workers of Color To Be Interviewed and Hired for Restaurant Industry’s Livable Wage Positions

“The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation and Inequality in the US Restaurant Industry” available here:

Today, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United released The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation and Inequality in the US Restaurant Industry, an in-depth study of race and gender discrimination in the restaurant industry. The report analyzes the hiring practices and promotional policies of 273 fine-dining establishments located throughout three principal majority-minority cities: Chicago, Metro-Detroit, and New Orleans.

Key findings include:

  • White workers, and a disproportionate amount of white males, hold the vast majority of both management and non-management living-wage jobs, such as servers and bartenders in fine-dining establishments.

  • White candidates were more than twice as likely as candidates of color to receive favorable treatment in the interview process. Through matched-pair testing of candidates with equal qualifications, 41% of white testers were granted an interview or a job offer, compared to 19% for testers of color.

  • White restaurant-job candidates in Chicago are twice as likely to get hired into top-paid (server and bartender) positions compared to candidates of color with equal qualifications. In Detroit and New Orleans, white candidates are one and a half times more likely to get hired into top-paid positions compared to equally qualified candidates of color.

  • Workers of color in the United States pay a “race tax” in the form of 56% lower earnings than white workers with the same qualifications;  women workers pay a “gender tax” of 11%, and non-naturalized immigrants pay an “immigrant tax” of 57%.

  • Discriminatory hiring and promotion practices are largely a result of a culture of informality in human-resource systems of fine-dining restaurants, including widespread absence of promotion protocols and career ladders.

There are approximately two million living-wage jobs in the restaurant industry. Although workers of color account for almost 45% of the restaurant industry’s workforce nationwide —compared to 33% of the rest of the economy — they are largely underrepresented in the highest-paid, coveted front-of-the-house positions in fine-dining restaurants.

“It’s abhorrent that skin color and gender are still obstacles to finding a living-wage job and being able to support yourself and your family,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director and co-founder of ROC United. “While women and people of color make up the majority of the restaurant industry’s workforce, they are continually shut out of the restaurant industry’s limited living-wage opportunities. Yet when responding to increasing public support for raising wages for all restaurant workers, industry lobbyists consistently conjure up the image of a white male server in a fine-dining restaurant making ‘more than $20 or $30 an hour’ as the typical restaurant worker.”

Segregation by race occurs not just by position (i.e., people of color have more limited access to higher-paid server and bartender jobs), but also by segment of the industry (i.e., people of color are concentrated in fast-food and casual, as opposed to higher-paid fine-dining restaurants). A culture that tolerates discrimination results in a hostile work environment for workers of color and women. The brunt of such abuse is expressed in the form of sexual harassment. As a result, nationally, nearly all tipped female restaurant workers report experiencing some form of sexual harassment, restaurant workers experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of workers overall, and workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers.

The report also includes policy recommendations, including:

  • Enact one fair wage by eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, and increasing the regular minimum wage to ensure all workers earn a living wage sufficient to care for themselves and their families.

  • Legislatively require that employers adopt a formalized promotions policy and provide information about job openings in the highest-paid positions.

  • Publicize and support model employer practices to provide much-needed guidance to other employers in the industry about ensuring equal opportunities to women and workers of color.

  • Support workforce-development programs, such as ROC’s COLORS Hospitality Opportunities for Workers (CHOW) program, that provide free or low cost, quality front-of-the-house hard and soft skills fine-dining training for all workers primarily targeted at workers of color and women to support advancement within the industry.

Additional resources:

Find separate executive summaries for Chicago, Metro-Detroit, and New Orleans here:

Find “The Great Service Divide: New York” here:

Find “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry” here:


Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate, Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News), ROC United has grown to over 13,000 members across 26 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.