The guy who whipped your Bojangles' biscuits? He doesn't have any paid sick days. The woman who served your dynamite shrimp at The Cheesecake Factory? She earns less than $5 an hour before tips. Working conditions in America's restaurants are notoriously lousy, and according to a new survey, diners actually care -- although rich diners care significantly less.
ORC International conducted the survey of over 1,000 American adults on behalf of the National Consumers League, a nonprofit advocacy group for consumers. And the findings are clear: People want restaurant workers to get fair wages, all their tips, and paid sick days.
But while college-educated Americans may have read more books on class and injustice, and higher-earning Americans might have more wealth to share, lower-income and less-educated Americans are far more compassionate towards their servers -- perhaps for the same reason that lower-income households give a greater percentage of their income to charity.
Wealthy people are less likely to favor increasing the minimum wage.
Eighty-seven percent of Americans think the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour should go up, even though the number hasn't budged for 22 years. Restaurant servers earn an average of $8.72 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or $18,130 a year, making it one of the lowest paying jobs on American soil (and almost $3,000 less than retail workers).
But of respondents with a high school education or less, 90 percent thought the minimum wage should go up, compared to 80 percent of college grads.
And of people from households earning less than $75,000 a year, 85 percent considered it important that the whole tip they left went to their servers, compared to 71 percent of those making more.
Almost half don't think it's important if servers get paid sick days.
The survey found that just 57 percent of Americans want their servers to receive paid sick days, though almost two out of three without college degrees favored it versus just one out of two college grads. It was women who cared about sick days most of all -- 66 percent, compared to 48 percent of men.
As it stands, 90 percent of restaurant workers report not having that benefit, according to 2011 research by The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an advocacy group for low wage restaurant workers. The vast majority of our nation's mightiest chains force workers to surrender a day's wages if they're sick, including Arby's, Cracker Barrel, California Pizza Kitchen, Domino's Pizza, Hard Rock Cafe, IHOP, T.G.I. Friday's, and Outback Steakhouse.
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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.