These days, more people are spending more money eating out than cooking at home. Restaurant sales exceeded grocery sales for the first time in March 2015. Nearly 11 million workers work in the US restaurant industry.
the restaurant industry's growth has not translated into better pay for its workers. Seven of the ten lowest-paying jobs in the US are in the food industry, according to the Department of Labor's numbers. Median hourly wage for restaurant workers, including tips, is $10.00, "compared with $18.00 outside of the restaurant industry," according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Unionized restaurant workers received significantly higher wages, but unionization numbers are very low in the food industry.
"The largest restaurant industry occupation is waiter/waitress, which makes up nearly a quarter (23.3 percent) of all restaurant jobs, and has a typical wage, including tips, of $10.15 an hour," EPI states. "The lowest-paid occupation is cashiers/counter attendants, at $8.23 an hour, while the highest paid are managers, at a typical wage of $15.42 per hour - which is still lower than the overall median wage outside the restaurant industry."
Restaurant workers also experience high levels of poverty. "One in six restaurant workers, or 16.7 percent, live below the official poverty line," according to EPI. Workers outside the restaurant industry face a poverty rate of 6.3 percent.
In addition to experiencing poverty and low wages, restaurant workers receive very few benefits. According to EPI, "Just 14.4 percent of restaurant workers receive health insurance from their employer, compared with roughly half (48.7 percent) of other workers." Meanwhile, 41.9 percent of unionized restaurant workers receive health insurance. Only 8.4 percent of restaurant workers have a pension plan through their job, compared to 41.8 percent outside the food industry. "Of unionized restaurant workers, 31.6 percent are covered by a pension plan," notes EPI.
According to the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United's report on racial and gender segregation in the restaurant industry mentions "workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers." ROC also notes that nearly 20 percent of restaurant jobs "provide livable-wages, and fine-dining servers and bartenders in cities like San Francisco and Oakland can earn between $50,000 and $150,000 per year." However, "those jobs are almost held exclusively by white people, and in many cases, white men,"
In California, women of color have it particularly bad. At an average wage of $10.13 an hour, women of color make the least, regardless if they're in Front-of-the-House (at $10.21 an hour) or Back-of-the-House (at $9.92 an hour) positions. As for men of color, even though they are 38 percent of California's restaurant workforce, they comprise 58 percent of Back-of-the-House positions. Altogether, the report's numbers reveal that most of the high-paying restaurant jobs are given to white workers, especially white men. Meanwhile, women and Black and Latino workers - especially women of color - receive less pay and occupy the lower-paid positions.
For further reading from an anarchist perspective Abolish Restaurants:
"We aren't just fighting for representation in or control over the production process. Our fight isn't against the act of chopping vegetables or washing dishes or pouring beer or even serving food to other people. It is with the way all these acts are brought together in a restaurant, separated from other acts, become part of the economy, and are used to expand capital. The starting and ending point of this process is a society of capitalists and people forced to work for them. We want an end to this. We want to destroy the production process, as something outside and against us. We're fighting for a world where our productive activity fulfills a need and is an expression of our lives, not forced on us in exchange for a wage--a world where we produce for each other directly and not in order to sell to each other. The struggle of restaurant workers is ultimately for a world without restaurants or workers."
Also of related interest a pamphlet on early union activism in the restaurant business, Dare to be Daniel