Forked: Saru Jayaraman’s Advice for a Broken American Restaurant Industry

At Bioneers 2017, Saru Jayaraman delivered an impassioned keynote address that invigorated her audience. Speaking on the slavery-based history of the American restaurant industry and its resultant pay structure, Jayaraman drew connections between the popularity of dining out in the U.S. and national racial tensions, gender injustices, and economic disparity. These were ideas that much of the audience was familiar with on some level—most of them having worked in the restaurant industry at one time or another—but that many were unaware of on a large scale. Jayaraman concluded her keynote by explaining why, in her eyes, people should care about this when there are currently so many global crises to thwart.

“Ultimately, we can’t survive—there will be no organic products or sustainable products of any kind—if people can’t consume,” said Jayaraman, discussing rampant low wages within America’s second-largest sector. “And fundamentally, these people are not just consumers, they are humans, and so are you, and I know you care not just about the Earth, but about equity. Fundamentally, you want us not just to survive through climate catastrophe, but thrive, live.”

In 2016, Jayaraman put these ideas (and many more) to paper in Forked (Oxford University Press). The following is excerpted from the book’s introduction.

People know me as the co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, a national social-movement organization dedicated to raising wages and working conditions in the nation’s restaurant industry. I have dedicated my life to serving as an organizer, advocate, and spokesperson for raising standards for restaurant workers.

What almost no one knows about me is that I don’t come from a line of restaurant workers; I come from a family of restaurant owners. And the family restaurant did not pay its workers well.

In the early 1900s, my great-great grandfather, a policeman named Sundara, opened a large restaurant in the tiny town of Karur, India. Motivated in part by his disdain for working for others (a sentiment shared today by his descendant), Sundara decided to open his own place, and call it Sundara Villas. Since the proprietor was an Indian Brahmin, Sundara Villas was forbidden by caste from serving meat. The cuisine was South Indian vegetarian, served communal-style on washed banana leaves to guests seated at long marble tables.

In those days, the general rule—and preference—was to eat at home, specifically a meal cooked by a wife or mother. Men only ate in restaurants if they were traveling, or a bachelor, or if their wives were sick or traveling. Gender norms forbade women from eating out or mixing with men in such public spaces, and thus the restaurant was almost an entirely male affair, with the exception of the proprietor’s daughters and granddaughters, who would run around playing in the restaurant.

Sundara brought his sons to work in the restaurant, but also hired young men from Karur and the neighboring villages. These workers were paid meager monthly wages, and many slept in the restaurant itself.

My great-grandfather, Venkataramanaswamy (try that ten times!), took over the restaurant when Sundara died. He also brought his sons to work in the restaurant. At this point there were young men who had worked at the restaurant for a lifetime, literally. And although wages were meager, there was most definitely a sense of family. Workers who fell ill were neither asked to work nor docked pay. Servers and cooks became lifelong family members. The longest-lasting server, a man named Sundaram, volunteered to cook at my parents’ wedding and attended every family wedding and function after that; my great-grandfather paid for Sundaram’s son’s coming-of-age ceremony. Another cook worked both in the restaurant and in the house, washing the children’s clothes.

There is no way I could call my great-grandfather a “high road” employer, which is the label we at ROC give to employers who provide their employees with livable wages and working conditions. The sense of family that my parents used to describe the restaurant is the same word almost every restaurateur in America uses to describe their employees—generally without cause and as a justification for paying low wages. We at ROC always respond by saying that being a family, although wonderful, is not enough; a family that keeps some of its relatives in poverty is a family that can do better, both for the sake of the workers and ultimately for the benefit of employers and consumers.

My restaurant-owning grandfathers were small business owners who followed the norms, customs, and culture of their day; today, these surrounding factors have changed and evolved. One hundred years later, their granddaughter is leading a movement to improve wages and working conditions for the workers they employed.

I love and respect my great-grandfather. He was a kind and extremely generous man who took care of his large family, his brothers’ families, and even the families of his employees. Certainly, through his eyes, I can understand the plight of the small restaurateurs in America struggling to understand how they would go against the norm of low pay and poor benefits in this industry and still succeed. However, the employers profiled in this book show that norms and standards can evolve in ways that help workers, employers, and consumers to thrive collectively. Times are changing, and the industry—and society—certainly can do better.

How We Are Forked

Right now, more than eleven million Americans work in restaurants. Unfortunately, the people who prepare, cook, and serve our food are also twice as likely as other Americans to be on food stamps. The restaurant industry—the industry that feeds us!—is also starving its workforce, both economically and as a civil society that values its citizens. However, this book sets out to describe a different path, which some employers are already on, to resolve these challenges.

Workers, consumers, and even employers have been gouged—“forked”—by low standards for employee treatment that have been set by the largest companies in this industry. But in another sense, the industry is also at a fork in the road: much of the industry is following the “low road” to profitability that has been modeled by a majority of large corporate restaurant chains, whereas a small but growing group of employers have shown that taking the “high road” to profitability results in better payoffs in the long run. In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Cornell University researchers in partnership with ROC shows that employers can cut costly employee turnover almost in half by providing higher wages and better working conditions, a tremendous gift to an industry that suffers from one of the highest employee turnover rates of any sector. This book will profile people and companies taking both paths, and show how we can get where we need to go by taking the “high road” at the fork in the road.

This book is a guide for anyone who eats out and anyone who wants to eat out better and more ethically. It is a tool to help us understand how restaurants fare on issues of worker wages, benefits, and promotions. Most importantly, this book (along with ROC’s smart phone application—more on this later) gives consumers the tools they need to communicate their values every time they eat out.

This book includes both ratings of well-known restaurant companies and more in-depth profiles of companies that rate well and others that do not. This book is not intended to condemn any companies, organizations, or individuals; on the contrary, the book is meant to show both the challenges at hand and that change is possible anywhere and everywhere, and that change is completely within our power as consumers to effect within our lifetimes.

Why This Book?

In 2013, I wrote a book called Behind the Kitchen Door, about working conditions in the restaurant industry, then proceeded to take my seven-month-old daughter with me on an insane book tour across the country. We stopped in big and small cities, and I spoke in churches, libraries, bookstores, restaurants, and anyplace that would have us. Sometimes I’d take my daughter with me up to the podium, and other times she’d be crawling around in the back of the audience while I pounded the podium with my fist and described the poverty-level wages and abysmal working conditions faced by the millions of restaurant workers in this country. I would talk about the work of ROC, the national movement that I co-founded and co-direct, and our work over the last twelve years to bring workers, responsible employers, and consumers together to change the industry.

In too many instances, women would approach me at the end of the book talk and share horrific stories of sexual harassment and assault while working as servers in restaurants. These stories dramatically changed the course of ROC’s work, as I’ll describe later.

Either way, everywhere I spoke, anytime I spoke, people would always ask, “So what can we do?” “Where can we eat?” And someone, almost every single time, would come up with the idea that everyone felt they had discovered for the first time—the idea of a diners’ guide, something tangible to tell eaters which restaurants fare well on issues of wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. And I would always say, “Yes, we have an app for that.”

The first ROC Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating was created for New York City in 2007, and it was a simple booklet to highlight restaurant owners who were providing livable wages and working conditions to their employees. We grew into a national organization that same year, and in 2012, published our first national version of the guide online and as a smartphone app. The guide and app rated the 100 most popular restaurant chains and also provided awards to approximately 75 of our responsible restaurant employer partners.

We never created the guide to tell people where to eat and where not to eat. If every ethical eater in America only frequented the 100 or so restaurants around the country that have been given awards for responsible employment in our app, we would eat in restaurants much less. Instead, we sought to provide a tool for consumers to speak up wherever and whenever they ate out—to say to managers and owners, “I loved the food, loved the service, and I’d love to keep coming back here. I just wanted to let you know that how a restaurant fares in this app on worker wages, benefits, and promotions practices are important to me as a consumer.”

This book represents the next step in that process. The book includes the same ratings of employers’ wages, benefits, and promotions practices, but it also includes profiles of restaurants that rate highly and others that rate poorly in specific food and labor categories. It especially tells the stories of outstanding restaurant employers—we call them “high-road” employers because they take the high road to profitability—who are growing and profitable because they pay and treat their workers well, not din of their above-average wages and working conditions. In particular, we focus on how these employers have managed to excel in the categories listed in this book.

We also profile employers who currently take the “low road” to profitability, but all of them have great potential to move over to the high road with some encouragement and pressure from all of us. In creating the Diners’ Guide, we sought to find a way to create simple, straightforward categories with which to rate restaurants, and realized that we needed to prioritize the key issues that restaurant workers have told us were their most important challenges during the last decade.

What Are the Key Issues This Book Rates?

This book is not an exhaustive examination of all the merits or demerits of various restaurant companies’ employment practices. Instead, it is a tool for consumers to begin to think about what to look for in a restaurant with regard to how it treats its workers. The key issues that workers have prioritized—and thus the ones we discuss in this book—are the same key policies that the Cornell researchers found are key to reducing employee turnover and thus increasing retention, productivity, and customer satisfaction: wages, benefits, and internal mobility, regardless of workers’ race or gender.

1. Wages

With almost eleven million workers, the restaurant industry is currently the second-largest and one of the fastest-growing employer sectors in the United States. Nearly one in twelve working Americans works in the restaurant industry right now. The restaurant industry is one of the only sectors to grow amid the economic crisis of the last decade. We have continued to eat out as a nation in ever-increasing numbers, even when we are unemployed.

Unfortunately, while it is one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the United States economy, it is also the absolute lowest-paying employer in the United States. Every year the U.S. Department of Labor releases a list of all occupations in the United States, including their hourly wages, and every year the restaurant industry wins the prize for having the lowest-paying occupations in the United States. Every year at least six to seven of the ten lowest-paying occupations are restaurant occupations, with only one or two of those occupations being fast-food jobs. Currently, restaurant workers occupy seven of the ten lowest-paid occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; at least four of these are in full-service restaurants.

So how is it that one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy—clearly a successful sector—is proliferating the nation’s lowest-paying jobs? Our analysis is that much of this persisting, extraordinary imbalance can be traced to the power of a trade lobbying group called the National Restaurant Association, which we at ROC call the Other NRA. The Other NRA, led by the nation’s Fortune 500 restaurant chains, has been named among Congress’s most powerful lobbying groups by Fortune Magazine. The NRA has lobbied extensively to keep the minimum wage as low as possible; not surprisingly, the restaurant industry is the largest employer of minimum-wage workers in the United States. As a result, the median hourly wage for all restaurant workers in the United States is a paltry $9.20.

Many people assume that low wages in the restaurant industry are concentrated in the fast-food segment of the industry. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Workers in all segments of the industry, in all positions and of all racial and gender backgrounds work and live in poverty in the restaurant industry. Wages for kitchen workers are abysmal, and, unbeknownst to many, income for workers serving customers on the dining floor—workers who earn tips—is no better.

In Chapter 2 of this book, I describe a brief history of tipping and the minimum wage for tipped workers over the last 150 years, and how the current system of allowing the restaurant industry to exempt itself from paying its own workers because they earn tips is a legacy of slavery. Over the last century, the restaurant industry has continuously lobbied for tipping to be entrenched in American restaurant culture and for resultant exemptions from minimum wage laws for restaurant employers. This history climaxed in 1996, when the CEO of the NRA was Herman Cain, a former business analyst for Pillsbury who made his name working for brands such as Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza. (Cain would later pursue the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and a 2004 Georgia senatorial nomination, losing in the primaries for both.) In his time at the NRA Cain struck a deal with Congress: the NRA would not oppose a modest increase in the overall minimum wage as long as the minimum wage for tipped workers would in turn stay frozen forever. The argument of the NRA was that since these workers earned tips, they should never actually receive a wage increase. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers has thus remained frozen at $2.13 an hour for almost 25 years. The Other NRA thus succeeded in convincing Congress and the American people that it should be the only industry on earth to win an extraordinary exemption for itself, saying that they should not have to pay their own workers’ wages but, instead, customers should.

Similar deals have been struck countless times over the last decade in at least forty-four states across the country. Seven states—California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Alaska, Nevada, and Minnesota—have had the same wages for tipped and non-tipped workers for decades. Although the NRA argues that paying tipped and non-tipped workers the same minimum wage would put them out of business, eliminate server positions, or reduce customer tipping, none of these predictions has been borne out in the seven states with no mandated lower wage for tipped workers. These seven states actually have faster restaurant-industry job-growth rates, higher job-growth rates (specifically in server occupations), and higher restaurant sales per capita than the forty-three states with lower wages for tipped workers. Tipping averages are the same in these states, and, in fact, Alaska has the highest tipping average of any state in the United States—and is a state with the same wage for tipped and non-tipped workers.

So, then, how and why has the Other NRA gotten away with this extraordinary exemption? They’ve gotten away with it by painting the picture of a young man who works at a fine dining restaurant, earning $18 an hour in tips and living the high life. In reality, two-thirds of tipped workers in America are women, and they largely work at casual restaurants like the Olive Garden, Applebee’s, IHOP, and Denny’s. Their median wage, including tips, is $8.77 per hour in states with a tipped minimum wage. These women suffer three times the poverty rate of the rest of the United States workforce and use food stamps at double the rate.

As a result of the same deal having been struck between the NRA and state legislators in states across the country, wages for tipped workers in America range between $2.13 and about $5 in forty-one states nationwide. When you are a tipped worker who receives between $2.13 and $5 an hour, you don’t actually receive a wage; your wage is so small it goes entirely to taxes, and you get a paystub with $0 that says, “THIS IS NOT A PAYCHECK.” As a result, the vast majority of tipped workers in America live completely off their tips, which creates extraordinary economic instability. These workers never know how much they are going to earn from week to week, day to day, or month to month. Although their bills and rent do not fluctuate, their income does.

During my 2013 book tour, women approached me at the end of book talks and shared stories that illustrated how our nation’s system of requiring certain workers to live off tips is not simply a matter of economic instability; it’s a matter of human indecency. Women related stories of having to objectify themselves to earn enough tips to survive—and since the customer was paying their wages, rather than their employer, the customer was always right. This meant that these women had to tolerate whatever a customer might do to them—however they might touch, treat, or talk to them—because, again, the customer was always right.

This dynamic was eloquently summarized by a restaurant server member of ROC, Amber, who spoke at a Senate press conference in Washington, DC, in 2013. She testified, “Senators, imagine if your income depended on the happiness of the people you serve. Because my income depends on the happiness of the people I serve, I have to put up with a guy groping my butt every day to feed my four-year-old son at night.”

Forcing women to live off tips also means that these women have to objectify themselves to get their tips. I’ve heard countless stories of women being told by their supervisors to “go home and dress more sexy, show more cleavage!” in order to sell more food and make more money in tips. This practice exposes women to sexual harassment not only from customers but also from co-workers and managers. In fact, the restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual-harassment complaints to the EEOC of any industry in the United States. Seven percent of American women work in restaurants, but 37 percent of all sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC come from the restaurant industry.

One woman, speaking from the audience at a talk I was giving, related a horrific story of having worked as a server as a young woman. Her manager had taken her into a walk-in freezer, held her at knifepoint, and raped her brutally. She felt she had no choice but to comply, and was forced to finish out her shift afterward.

One of the most personally saddening parts of the stories women were sharing with me was that many had moved on to other professions, but their experiences in the restaurant industry impacted their careers. Multiple women repeated more or less the same story: I’m a corporate lawyer/ executive/ professional. I’ve been sexually harassed recently on the job, but never did anything about it because it was never as bad as it was when I was a young woman working in restaurants. These stories led us to understand that besides the six million women who must put up with this system daily as restaurant workers, there are millions more women who work in the restaurant industry as their first job in high school, college, or graduate school. In fact, restaurants pride themselves on offering first jobs for most young people. For young women, however, most of them working as tipped workers, having their first jobs in the restaurant industry means that they are introduced into the world of work in a situation in which they are encouraged to sell themselves and their bodies to earn their income. It is the industry through which they learn what is tolerable and acceptable in the workplace—an industry in which they must tolerate the most extremely inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and managers—in order to be able to feed their families.

For all these reasons, over the last few years, ROC has led a campaign to eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers, called One Fair Wage. To be clear, our campaign is to eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers, not tipping altogether; unless and until employers can provide a professional, livable income to their workers, tips are absolutely necessary on top of a full base wage to get workers closer to a wage that will allow them to support their families. Some restaurants have chosen to eliminate tipping altogether; we applaud them if they do so in a transparent manner and ultimately pay their workers a full base wage that is equivalent to what they would have earned through tips.

In this book, we give a restaurant a point if it provides non-tipped workers with at least $10 as a starting wage, and another point if it provides tipped workers with more than their state’s tipped minimum wage. We also especially commend restaurants moving toward One Fair Wage—eliminating the lower wage for tipped workers altogether.

2. Paid Sick Days

Ninety percent of restaurant workers nationwide report not having paid sick days, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving our food when they are sick—with everything from H1N1 to Hepatitis A. Restaurant workers not having paid sick days means that they are forced to come to work while sick or risk losing their job. Workers report that they are told that they will be fired if they do not come to work, even if they are sick. Even among those workers who are not told they will be fired, without receiving pay when they are sick, the vast majority of workers prefer to work when sick rather than cutting into an already too-paltry income. As mentioned earlier, too many of these workers live completely off tips, which can only be obtained by physically coming to work.

Of course, the issue is also a public health concern. Sick restaurant workers infect co-workers and, of course, customers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 50– 90 percent of all norovirus (stomach flu) outbreaks can be traced back to sick restaurant workers.

Recent efforts across a broad coalition of organizations have pushed paid sick days legislation in states and cities across the country, with tremendous success: seventeen cities, including Washington, DC, and the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and California have passed paid sick-days laws. Of course, these victories have not been achieved without intense opposition from the Other NRA, which argues that restaurants will be forced to close, shed jobs, or not grow as quickly if they must provide paid sick days. In fact, in 2013 the Other NRA joined forces with Darden, the world’s largest full-service restaurant company and owner of the Olive Garden, Capital Grille Steakhouse, and Long Horn Steakhouse, among other brands. Darden helped write the preemption legislation in Florida, and the Other NRA, where Darden plays a leading role, pushed preemption bills around the country prohibiting any localities in those states from passing local paid-sick-days ordinances. Such preemptive legislation was passed in eight of the fourteen states in which it was introduced, undermining citizens’ ability to pass local paid-sick-days legislation even if it was democratically approved by a majority or even a unanimity of voters in a particular locality. The current count of preemption states is eleven, with eight having been passed in the last two years.

Nonetheless, the fight to expand paid-sick-days legislation to more cities and states—and thus protect the public health—continues. Many restaurant employer partners and others around the country have implemented paid sick days and found the policy to have enormous benefits in terms of worker productivity and retention. Several are profiled in this book. In this book, we denote restaurants that provide even a single sick day with a thermometer icon.

3. Internal Mobility

Two-thirds of restaurant workers surveyed nationally reported never receiving a promotion to a higher-paying position, and even fewer reported ever being offered training necessary to move up the ladder to higher-level positions. Although there is a myth of mobility in the industry—the idea that a dishwasher could one day open her own restaurant—the reality is that the vast majority of workers see very little advancement in their careers.

Such lack of advancement has serious racial implications, because the restaurant industry is highly racially segregated. Workers of color are segregated into lower-level segments—fast-food and casual restaurants as opposed to fine dining—and even lower-level positions—kitchen and busser positions rather than server and bartending positions—especially in fine dining restaurants. This results in workers of color earning $4 less per hour than white workers in the U.S. restaurant industry overall.

ROC research shows that although 80 percent of restaurant worker occupations provide poverty-level wages, up to 20 percent of the jobs in the industry can provide a livable wage. These are largely server and bartender positions in fine dining restaurants. As mentioned earlier, the majority of servers in America do not work in fine dining restaurants and suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce. However, servers and bartenders in fine dining restaurants can earn a livable wage; unfortunately, these jobs are held in vast majority by white men. Workers of color face significant barriers in attempting to advance either from lower-level positions in fine dining restaurants or from fast-food or casual restaurants into fine dining.

With so little mobility in the industry, most servers in fine dining restaurants are hired from outside the restaurant, and most are white. In 2014, ROC released a series of matched-pairs audit-testing studies, having sent into fine dining restaurants hundreds of pairs of white and people of color applicants with identical resumes, personalities, and size and height characteristics to see who would be hired as servers. We found that white applicants had twice the chance of a person of color of getting hired as a fine dining server.

In the alternative scenario, several responsible restaurant employers—including several profiled in this book—have chosen to invest in their own workforce by training and promoting workers from within the company to the highest-paying positions in the company. Zingerman’s, an Ann Arbor mainstay featured in the “sandwich” chapter of this book, even goes so far as to train and promote workers all the way up to the ownership level.

In this book, we provide a notation for any restaurant that has provided a raise or a promotion to a higher-paying position to at least 50 percent of its current staff within the last year. This is a decent measure of mobility, but not a complete measure of racial discrimination and segregation, which requires ongoing study and investigation. Consumers can be a part of observing, documenting, and changing patterns of racial segregation in the restaurant industry using ROC’s smartphone application, as described in greater detail in this book’s conclusion.

Local Versus National

As mentioned earlier, this book rates restaurants in various food categories—casual and family-style restaurants, fine dining restaurants, Mexican fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, sandwich restaurants, burgers, and diners. Each chapter of this book focuses on a different food category, and in each chapter we provide an in-depth story of a restaurant company that receives a high rating in the category, and another that receives a low rating.

It will not be surprising to some that most of the restaurants receiving high marks in this book are not national chains, and that all the restaurants receiving low marks are national chains. (In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle provide the exception.) Foodies might be relieved to not see their favorite fine dining restaurant receive a negative rating in this book; it might be easier for some to condemn chain restaurants.

However, poverty wages, lack of benefits such as paid sick days, and a lack of upward mobility are certainly not unique to national restaurant chains. Unfortunately, these conditions are vastly pervasive throughout the industry, regardless of geography, ownership structure, or size. We still need to talk to and encourage most of our favorite local restaurants, because statistics show they are likely following the same low-road standards set by the chains. Nevertheless, all the restaurants receiving low marks in this book are restaurant chains for two reasons. First, it would have been impossible to rate all restaurants in America, and thus we chose to focus on the most popular restaurants in each category, in addition to those willing to provide the information requested. Non-chain restaurants willing to provide the information tended to be responsible restaurant owner partners of ROC. Second, and perhaps more important, America’s largest chain restaurants lead the National Restaurant Association and lobby to set minimum wage and paid sick days standards in this country. They also set standards with regard to training and mobility. As the restaurant companies that set standards for the industry, they bear the responsibility of additional scrutiny. After all, they could just as well set a higher employment standard for the industry—a standard that most other restaurants in America could follow. It is our hope that they soon will.

Of course, this dichotomy might lead some to question the comparisons. If most of the higher-rated companies are small and local, and most of the lower-rated companies are large and national, couldn’t the lower employment standards be related to size and geography? Perhaps, some might say, it is impossible for larger companies to provide higher wages and benefits as they grow. Even if it is not impossible, how can smaller companies provide lessons on doing things differently to larger companies; in other words, can the high employment standards of the smaller companies featured in this book be taken to scale?

I offer a few key responses to these questions. First, In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle rule out the notion that it is impossible to take higher employment standards to scale. Second, smaller companies have fewer advantages than larger companies, not greater. Larger companies have larger profit margins, more liquid cash, and countless economies of scale that would allow them to increase standards more easily than a smaller company with smaller profit margins. If the small companies featured in this book were able to implement higher wage and benefit standards and still survive, even thrive, then, so too, should large national companies be able to follow.

But what about the local versus national question? Several of the high-road employers profiled in this book—Vimala of Vimala’s Curryblossom Café in North Carolina, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, and Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets and Eatonville—argue that there is an inherent advantage to remaining a local company. All argue that local companies are invested in and integral to local communities and local economies in ways that national companies are not. Fortunately, although the companies that lead the National Restaurant Association in setting industry-wide standards are all national chains, the majority of restaurant companies in America are still smaller local companies that have the potential to be rooted in local communities. This would suggest that our fight must be to ensure that wages and working conditions improve across all different types of restaurants and that local restaurants continue to grow and thrive in spite of the growth of national restaurant chains. It would also suggest that local restaurant owners share something with restaurant workers nationwide, in all kinds of restaurants—namely, the need to move the restaurant chains that lead the National Restaurant Association to set different standards for the industry, respecting both workers and their neighbors in local communities.

How You Can Use This Book

1. Download and share the ROC Diners’ Guide app. Download our smartphone app here ( and share it with your friends to help them eat ethically as well. This nifty app uses geo locators to map out ROC Diners Guide awarded restaurants around the country. You can also let employers know that you care about how they treat their workers—it’s quick and easy on Twitter and Yelp, and you will help to shift industry standards on things like the racial makeup of people in the highest paid positions.

2. Talk to restaurateurs about your values. Use this book and the ROC Diners’ Guide app to start a conversation about your values when you eat out, especially with restaurants that rank poorly in the Guide or aren’t included yet. I like to say to owners at the end of my meal, “I loved the food. I loved the service. I’d love to keep coming here, but I want you to know that the criteria in this app are important to me. It’s important to me to know that your workers are paid a living wage, provided paid sick days, and provided lots of opportunities to move up the ladder, regardless of their race or gender.”

3. Eat ethically at a high-road restaurant! Whenever possible, support the award-winning restaurants in this book. Let them know you support them for their great employment practices. And if you know of a restaurant not listed in the guide that you think might be committed to the high road, let them know about ROC’s high-road employer association RAISE (, which offers a place for restaurateurs to support one another on that path.

4. Let your elected officials know that we need to eliminate the two-tiered system of a separate, lower wage for tipped workers in favor of One Fair Wage. You can visit to send a letter to your representatives letting them know we also need paid sick days for all workers in America so we won’t have to worry about our cooks or servers working when they are sick.

5. Hold low-road employers accountable. You can help by supporting workers pursuing claims against restaurant employers who have been charged with violating the law. When you know that workers have complained, as in the case of the Darden Restaurant Group, which owns the Olive Garden and Capital Grille Steakhouse, you can call the company to let them know that you won’t support such questionable practices.

6. Join ROC! We have created an ethical diners’ association called Diners United, mobilizing restaurant-goers in support of livable wages and working conditions for the nation’s eleven million restaurant workers. Join the growing network of people who care about the food they eat and the people behind it. Visit, and join us!

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Forked by Saru Jayaraman, published by Oxford University Press, 2016.

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