More than 4 million Americans spend their days serving burgers, cleaning tables and opening cans. Food and beverage preparation is one of the biggest sectors in the country's economy, and it's no secret that the pay isn't great.
But what are the absolute worst restaurant chains to work for? The newly updated 2012 Diner's Guide, from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a New York-based nonprofit fighting on behalf of low-wage restaurant workers, offers up a Zagat-like review of America's most well-known chain eateries. Except, instead of commenting on the sumptuousness of the vichyssoise or the viscosity of the scallop gelee, ROC United claims to reveal just how crummy it is to work at most of America's nationwide food chains. But four of the restaurants -- all owned by the same parent company-- get an extra special medal of shame.
The four are all owned by Darden Restaurants, the largest full-service restaurant company on the planet, which employs 180,000 people in North America alone. These restaurants not only offer "poverty wages" and zero sick days for workers, alleges ROC United, but working conditions are so bad that some employees called the group for legal help.
Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers told The Huffington Post that the accusations are "baseless" and that the ROC United "doesn't seem to be interested in the facts."
4 Worst Restaurants To Work For
Worst Restaurant Chains To Work For
The upscale steakhouse chain Capital Grille not only doesn't make the cut as a "high road" restaurant, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Not only has at least half of its current employees never been promoted, and information on its wages and sick days were mysteriously unavailable. "I was never offered a raise in the two years I was employed," one employee gripes on Glassdoor.com.
But Capital Grille gets a big fat frowny face in ROC United's report, because Capital Grille employees have actually sought out the help of ROC United for wage theft and discrimination. Employees in five states actually served the restaurant a lawsuit earlier this year, claiming that non-white employees were relegated to back-of-the-house duties, away from the eyes of customers, because only whites were supposedly seen to cultivate the desired high-end image.
"We continue to believe these allegations are baseless," Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said. However, as with any claims of impropriety, we will investigate them thoroughly."
Olive Garden's tipped workers make less than $5 an hour an average, according to the ROC United report, and its non-tipped workers less than $9. And if they get sick, they have to give up those measly wages to take a day off. But that's not the worst part of working at Olive Garden, apparently. Its employees have also called up ROC United because of alleged wage theft and discrimination issues.
Some employees make decent pay at the country's favorite pseudo-Italian date spot. A person who claimed to be an Olive Garden manager posted to the anonymous online forum Reddit that he took home $55,000 a year, plus benefits. "... but the toll it takes on you mentally is ridic," he wrote. "10 hour shifts, on your feet all day. Dealing with a--holes. Yeah, you get to see a lot of hot chicks, but most of them are on dates with some douchebag who can't afford to take his girl to a more expensive dinner."
You also have to deal with a lot of people coming in for the free breadsticks, and then making a run for it.
Casual crustacean-dining chain Red Lobster scored a whopping zero in every ROC category. Unlivable wages. No paid sick days. Poor opportunities for advancement. "No chance of working up to higher positions," wrote one Red Lobster server on Glassdoor.com. But ROC United has also helped out Red Lobster employees, at their request, on legal charges against their employer.
It isn't the first time that Red Lobster employees have enlisted the help of the law. In 2005, more than 40,000 current and former workers at California Red Lobsters and Olive Gardens (they share the same parent company) got a piece of a $9.5 million pie after accusing the chain of denying them breaks and of forcing them to purchase their own uniforms. Although it made a huge settlement, Red Lobster did not admit fault in the case.
The reviews of working at LongHorn Steakhouse on Indeed.com are mixed. Some employees laud the benefits and training. Others say things like, "Terrible management, promises of advancement, but no follow-through, long hours, no breaks, the epitome of overworked & underpaid."
ROC United has few kind words for the chain, which has no paid sick days, according to the report. Information on its wages and advancement opportunities were apparently impossible to come by. But ROC United does know for the sure that LongHorn workers have contacted them, asking their legal help because of wage theft and discrimination. No lawsuit has been filed yet, and LongHorn's parent company Darden has largely dismissed ROC United's allegations.
For a list of the 43 other big national chain restaurants with horrible working conditions, according to ROC United, click here. If you prefer a cheerier read, click here to find the seven restaurants that the group says are great places to work.