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The sad truth is that if you rank workers along with animals and energy use in deciding how to eat ethically, there aren't a lot of good choices and they're awfully hard to find. That's what makes the Restaurant Opportunities Centers' dining guide so valuable: It lists some of the good guys in the restaurant industry, from the eminently affordable like Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, DC, or Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the very high end like Tom Colicchio's Craft.

ROC also offers tips for encouraging your favorite restaurants to improve their labor practices, starting with the video above demonstrating how to have a conversation with management. Other ways include:

Leave behind a note, as simple as “noticed you still pay the subminimum wage of $2.13/hour to your tipped workers, as a frequent customer I’d love to see that raised!“

Send a constructive tweet or Facebook comment their way (easier if you download our Diners Guide app)

Enjoy reviewing restaurants? Be sure to include your knowledge of the restaurant’s labor practices in your review.

If your city or state government is considering a minimum wage increase, urging your representatives to include the tipped worker minimum wage, which is still just $2.13 at the federal level.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Many do not understand what servers are asked to (16+ / 0-)

    ..do throughout their shifts. In many establishments , servers just don't punch in and serve folks. They are required to do prep work for server's stations, lightly cleaning inside and outside, as well as other duties owners like to assign the staff.

    Some restaurants also refuse to giver servers the tips they earn via credit/debit cards after each shift. While this is good for the owners (and I.R.S.), it is not so great for people living on the margins who need their money daily.

    Those making $2.13/hr are also made to give up part of their tips to subsidize the low wages of other support staff such as bartenders, hosts, bus staff, dishwashers, and food runners. If one wants to truly understand wage theft then head on down to your favorite casual dining establishment and talk to the wait staff.

    I loved my time in the business and would one day like to own my own establishment complete with reforms, but the labor and wage laws must be updated to protect these workers.

    The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

    by sebastianguy99 on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 09:11:15 AM PST

    •  Pooled tips (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sebastianguy99, minidriver

      Almost every restaurant makes their waitstaff pool their tips-- so it's no telling how much each individual server ends up with each day. Plus, it seems like an incentive either to: have fewer waitstaff working any given shift (and play the same game a lot of other workplaces do in the same of saving money), or hire a lot of waitstaff and therefore have a smaller average pooled tip for each person (and pat themselves on the back for "creating jobs").

      Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

      by Lucy Montrose on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 01:47:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  One problem (0+ / 0-)

      "If your city or state government is considering a minimum wage increase, urging your representatives to include the tipped worker minimum wage, which is still just $2.13 at the federal level. "

      If we tried that in Pennsylvania, even money Corbett would try to lower the minimum wage to below what federal law permits.

  •  Oregon, Washington & California (7+ / 0-)

    do not allow a lower tipped wage.  The GOP candidate for governor a couple years ago was recorded saying he would be willing to change that.  There are a lot of highly educated people working as servers and baristas in this state, and it saved the election for Kitz.

    Portland just passed a paid sick leave ordinance.  

    •  I love living here in Oregon (0+ / 0-)

      and I really hope Portland just set a precedent. Not to mention Seattle with the move toward $15/hour min wage.

      On the one hand, I want everyone to be able to live somewhere as amazing as the Pacific NW.

      On the other hand, I don't want millions of people moving here! :-p

  •  PS - I try to tip in cash as much as I can (7+ / 0-)

    I remember how great it was to take home a pocket of cash in my waitress days (that's how long ago it was - I was a waitress.)

  •  And when you're in Detroit next summer for NN14... (7+ / 0-)

    ...you can eat at a ROC restaurant, COLORS - Detroit! Spectacular food in a way-cool environment.

    More info on ROC's two restaurants (Detroit and NYC)

    "Back off, man. I'm a scientist."
    -- Dr. Peter Venkman


    Join me, LOLGOP, Anne Savage, and Amy Lynn Smith at Eclectablog.

    by Eclectablog on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 09:25:42 AM PST

  •  I haven't eaten in a restaurant with tipped worker (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass

    for more than a decade I'm sure. I wish they'd stop the tips and just pay a decent wage. Like $15 to start for everyone.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 09:29:34 AM PST

  •  Don't forget tipping ( in cash) (6+ / 0-)

       A recent article by Connie Schultz -Tip in Cash and Don't be a Jerk, she highlights some relevant informtion:  not all restaurants distribute the tips that are added onto a credit card nor do the proceeds in a tip jar are equally distributed.  Her recommendation:  ask the employees.

        http://www.creators.com/...

        I was the recipient of T he Progressive Populist - not sure how I got on their distribution list - but some interesting and thought provoking articles.

  •  Public health department inspections are incomplet (4+ / 0-)

    A well known safe food handling rule, is "don't let sick people prepare or handle your food". In the restaurant setting, this means that restaurant employees shouldn't be afraid to call in sick. One reason to fear calling in sick, is the need for money.

    If a restaurant doesn't offer paid sick time off to its kitchen staff and servers, then it shouldn't be able to pass a health inspection.

    Obviously, this sort of change needs to be pushed from the legislature.

    •  That makes good sense hygenically, (0+ / 0-)

      but it won't be done except where voters put it on the ballot, or elect enough state or local lawmakers and an executive with progressive philosophies to make it the law.  Until then, any inspector who tried that would have his or her inspection overturned, and come close, if not actually get fired.  Since there is no LAW requiring paid sick days for sanitary purposes, the inspector could legally be accused of setting "arbitrary" rules based on "personal opinion," rather than following the official rules.  And a good case could be made that, as a matter of enforcement, changing the rules without notice (and having the rules depend on which inspector you get) amounts to an "ex post facto" law, which is unconsitutional.

      Because of corporate lobbying, I would put more faith in a grass roots effort to put it on the ballot.

  •  Hmmm.. seems like the ones on the list (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    stagemom, commonmass, fumie

    that meet the criteria are all in high-wage areas of the country!

    If you use national minimum standards to evaluate someone working in NYC or San Francisco or Washington, D.C. they will always come out on the top of the list!

    Duh.

    And.. they are mixing national chains with single high-scale restaurants.  WTF?  This guide is pretty much useless unless you live in one of the cities mentioned above.

  •  At least in restaurants you are permitted to TIP (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, fumie

    Clarks shoe stores (not the outlets) pay their workers the $2 cheapy minimum, their workers get only a 6% commission, and they are patently told they cannot accept tips. I wonder how many stores that don't pay minimum wage also follow this horrid practice?  Couple this with the fabulous 29 hour work week for part timers and you find a lot of frightened hungry workers.

    UGH, TEXAS. Please secede!

    by u028021 on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 09:43:29 AM PST

  •  MSN just had a story about how wait staff can (0+ / 0-)

    make $150,000 per year so don't be disappointed if your son and daughter goes into the industry.

    Right. And there are lottery winners but I'm still not buying a ticket.

    P.S. How did this diary get on the most shared list with 3/39 shares?

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. If I had Bill Gates money, I'd buy Detroit.

    by ZenTrainer on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 09:47:26 AM PST

    •  I've actually seen that quoted in comments before! (0+ / 0-)

      Someone will post that we as a nation don't have to fix this form of income inequity because they happen to know a waiter who rakes in the cash.  Gotta love these people who make decisions based on anecdotal information.

      It's just like saying we should all become actors because, hey, Angelina Jolie has a net worth of $140 million!

  •  An alternative is owner-operated restaraunts (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fumie

    While many small restaurants are terrible about paying their employees a decent wage, if it's a truly family-operated operation usually everyone is taking some share of the profits, as well as room and board and free meals.

    As an added benefit, by definition any owner-operated or family-operated  eatery will be a small, locally-owned business, which keeps money in the local economy and helps expand the "real economy" of goods and services.

    Many food trucks, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and Indian restaurants fall into this category.

  •  Zimmerman's menu (0+ / 0-)

    does not look to me to be "eminently affordable".

    $12.50 for a burger.. no sides!

    2 pc fried chicken dinner - $14.50!

    NY Strip - $38.00

    These are not "affordable" restaurants.  The highly-rated ones can afford to pay their employees well.  And good for them!

    But most Americans cannot afford to eat at places like this regularly- nor is there capacity at these one-off restaurants to feed most Americans.  That's why people go to Chili's or Olive Garden or all the other ones rated badly on this list.

    I guess I can applaud the efforts of this group.  Those seeking high-end restaurant experiences can find which ones are good to their workers.  

    And, yes,  it's good to educate the public.  But I doubt it would sway many people's dining habits.

  •  Zingerman's ROCKS (5+ / 0-)

    Just went there last week to visit my brother in Ann Arbor. Bought a care package for our daughter (UMich '08) who unfortunately now lives in Awful, Texas.

    Had Brunch at the Z Roadhouse. Awesome food and experience. Good for them.

    I didn't know Zingerman's did right by their employees, but the service we got both at the deli and the Roadhouse was first rate. Kudos to them.

    •  I don't get to Zingerman's enough... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hamjudo, sngmama

      ...but when I do, I feel like an employee team meeting just ended and the employees are fresh off the pep talk. Unfailing cordial and dependably knowledgeable about their wares.  

      I've only lived in Ann Arbor since 2001, but I see a great deal of staff continuity. Actual natives tell me it's close to a "destination" job.

      Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. --Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Egalitare on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 10:21:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think this is a magnificent idea. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Egalitare, Elizaveta

    Folks working in the restaurant industry should make a living wage. Frankly, I would like to see tipping abolished in favor of living wages for workers. In most European countries restaurant workers make a living wage and are frankly offended when American tourists tip them at American rates, which happens often.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 10:03:38 AM PST

  •  14 states @ $2.13 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    portlandzoo, nextstep

    Many other states are just a bit higher.
    http://www.dol.gov/...

    The law requires that the tipped worker receive at least the minimum wage of pay plus tips...just the tipped rate without enough tips isn't legal.  It is still done some places, though.

    I usually tip in cash, the percentage I choose rounded up to the next dollar.  Let the server decide whether to report the tips to the IRS...not for me to decide.

  •  In the late 1970's El Azteco in East Lansing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hamjudo, gregsullmich

    revolutionized Mexican food by taking the lard traditionally used in re-fried beans and substituting vegetable oil for that use.

    The result was a real improvement in the healthiness of the Mexican cuisine.

    The guy who started El Azteco would go every year to New Mexico to purchase peppers for use at the restaurant.

  •  If you eat at a chain restaurant, your cook... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BigOkie

    ...doesn't get breaks. Regardless of labor laws. They get to smoke a few times a shift and that's it. And they don't get sick days. They do go in sick, because they have to. Even being a line cook at a wing joint requires skill. The job is physically demanding.

    Thanks for this. ROC is a great thing. Customers need to speak up, because money is the only language these companies understand.

    Shear is a very brittle failure mode. Other modes of material failure include warning signs like bowing or cracking. But Failure in Shear often occurs catastrophically, without warning.

    by Failure in Shear on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 10:58:47 AM PST

  •  interesting read (0+ / 0-)

    particularly about the Darden Group - I didn't know they were so dubiously distinguished. Until I hear or read that they've mended their ways, I will give their many establishments a pass.

    The restaurant business is very competitive - I urge the offenders on the list to get with some or all of the program or eventually you won't need to pay staff at all.

    "Please proceed, Governor"

    by portlandzoo on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 11:00:45 AM PST

  •  I'd love for wages to go up at restaurants (0+ / 0-)

    So I don't have to calculate the tip after a few drinks.

    http://callatimeout.blogspot.com/

    by DAISHI on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 11:23:45 AM PST

  •  One of ROC's honorees is running for DC Mayor (0+ / 0-)

    Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys & Poets and Eatonville restaurants (both ROC Gold Star restaurants), is running for Mayor of Washington, D.C.

    Here's a longform Washington Post feature from 2011 about Andy's activism and his life story, if you're interested in learning more.

    (Disclaimer: I'm working as a fundraiser for Andy's campaign)

    "Speaking for myself only" - Armando

    by JR on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 02:54:44 PM PST

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