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People of Color Are Paid 56 Percent Less Than White Workers in Restaurant Industry: Study

Women of color earn, on average, $4 less than white men in California.


A new study reveals that there is still a shocking amount of segregation — both gender- and racially-based — in the restaurant industry. Conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a group that is dedicated to improving working conditions in the restaurant industry and the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, the study specifically focuses on California's restaurant industry. Called "Ending Jim Crow in America's Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry," the study, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that white males are "afforded the [most] opportunity to work in the highest paying, most exclusive" bartender and server jobs at fine-dining restaurants, especially compared to men and women of color.

Women of color in restaurants make 71 cents for every dollar a white man makes.

The study looked at 133 fine-dining restaurants in the state and found that 81 percent of management, and 78 percent of the high-level non-management positions such as those held by captains and bartenders are "occupied by white workers, a disproportionate amount" of whom are male. Latinos and African Americans, both male and female, and limited to lower paying gigs in the fine dining industry like busser and runner, or jobs in the fast food industry. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that a waiter at a fine-dining restaurant in San Francisco can take home as much as $150,000 per year. The runner, who is "just one step below the waiter," often only makes around $30,000 and "has little chance of advancement."

The researchers add that after they adjusted for education and language proficiency in the study, they found that "workers of color receive 56 percent lower earnings when compared to equally qualified white workers." Across the country in general, on average, people of color are paid 35 percent less than white workers. The occupational opportunities are the worst for women of color. The study notes that "women of color see the largest impact of... segregation on their wages" and that white men in California earn, on average, $4 more per hour than women of color.

Across the country in general people of color are paid 35 percent less than white workers.

The differences between white males compared to both white women and men and women of color can be found both in front-of-house and back-of-house positions. The study shows that the hourly wage for a while male working in the front of the house is $15.06. For non-white men, their hourly wage is $12.85, which is still more than what white women earn ($11.56). The numbers are the worst for women of color who earn just $10.21 on average per hour. The difference is a little less drastic in the back of the house, where white men earn on average $12.24 per hour while men of color earn $10.69. Both white and non-white women earn around $9.95 in the back of the house.

It's worth comparing this to the national average. According to ROC's study, women of color in restaurants make 71 cents for every dollar a white man makes. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national wage gap between genders is 21 percent — women make 78.3 cents for every dollar a white man makes.

This is the latest in a series of studies that highlight unfair workplace conditions in the restaurant industry. Last year, a report also by ROC revealed that "sexual harassment is endemic to the restaurant industry." The study showed that 90 percent of female employees and 70 percent of male employees have reported experiencing sexual harassment from customers. Just under 70 percent of female employees and nearly 50 percent of male employees say they have "experienced some form of sexual harassment" from their managers as well.

Update 10/22/2015: The National Restaurant Association sent Eater a statement in response to ROC's study, which a spokesperson calls an "attack" on the industry.

"The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse industries in America, with zero barriers to entry and endless pathways to success. This ‘report' is nothing more than another attempt to tear down the hardworking men and women of our nation's restaurants by a group dedicated to attacking our industry with misinformation while promoting their own agenda.

These are the facts: U.S. Census Bureau data shows that growth in restaurant ownership among minorities and women outpaced growth in the overall industry during the last 10 years on record.

Half of all U.S. restaurants are majority-owned or co-owned by women. Overall, one-third of our nation's restaurant owners are minorities. In addition, we proudly employ more women and minority managers than any other industry: two in five restaurant managers are women; overall, one in three come from a minority background."