You Are Where You Eat: ROC National Diners’ Guide 2014

By: Lauren French

The restaurant industry is one of the largest sectors of the US economy and is projected to see some of the highest levels of growth by 2020. But the industry isn't sharing its success with the people who have, in large part, made this growth possible: restaurant workers who are routinely paid poverty-level wages and rarely have access to crucial benefits, including paid sick days. Six in ten of the lowest paying jobs in the US are found in the restaurant industry, and tipped workers are more than twice as likely as non-tipped workers to fall below the federal poverty line.

Thanks in part to the success of the sustainable food movement, consumers have become increasingly sensitized to the ethical practices of restaurants. A sustainable food system means not only that the food on our tables is good for us and for the environment, but also that the people serving us can afford to put food on their own tables and have time to care for their families. To make this possible diners must join in the fight to improve the quality of restaurant jobs.

In order to assist consumers in making ethical dining choices, for the third year, the Restaurant Opportunity Centers (ROC) United has compiled a National Diners' Guide. The guide provides information about the wages, benefits, and promotion practices of the 100 highest grossing restaurants in America. It also lists "high road" restaurants, which offer exceptional working conditions to their employees.

ROC celebrated the release of this year's National Diners Guide on December 16 with an award ceremony and panel of high road employers at Eatonville Restaurant in DC. The owners of these restaurants explained that providing living wages and paid sick time is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. "It's just good business," explained Andy Shallal, owner of Eatonville and Busboys and Poets (two high road restaurants in the Washington, DC area), "the bottom line is you're better off if you do these things."

This movement towards sustainable business practices cannot be fully realized without the support of consumers. As Paul Saginaw, owner of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, remarked during the ceremony, "philanthropy is not just the check you write at the end of the year, it's how you chose to spend your dollars every day." Show your support for restaurant workers and good employers by using the Diners' Guide,  iPhone app, Android app, and consumer toolkit to support sustainable and ethical employers. Let restaurant owners know that you're putting your money where your mouth is. 

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