Food's Great. But Does the Chef Get Vacation?

If you want to be served by a waiter likely to make at least $5 an hour before tips, head to the sushi chain Todai, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, or Craft Restaurants, owned by Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame. Or maybe you don’t want a line cook going to work with a cold (and sneezing on your lunch). In that case your best bets are In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle Mexican Grill, or Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Those are some of the recommendations in a new dining guide that’s more Mother Jones than Michelin, putting mouthwatering descriptions of foie gras and roasted poussin on the back burner in favor of criteria such as how much the line cooks and servers are paid and whether their employers offer them chances to rise up the ranks. “Consumers will now routinely ask if they are eating free-range chicken,” says Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, the New York-based workers’ rights group that wrote ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012: A Consumer Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants. “Well, we want them to ask if their servers are getting paid sick days, too.”

The group bases its ratings on information collected in 2011 from owners and managers at 186 of the largest fast-food, fast-casual, and fine-dining chains and restaurants across the U.S. and is using the guide to lobby for city and state laws that would guarantee employees of any industry seven days of paid sick leave a year. In 2010, Restaurant Opportunities surveyed 4,300 kitchen workers, 66 percent of whom said they cooked or served food on the job while ill because they wouldn’t collect a paycheck if they stayed in bed.

The free booklet gets a bad grade from the National Restaurant Assn., whose spokesman Scott DeFife calls it “a transparent attempt to disparage” an industry that “has continued to be one of the country’s leading job creators.” Most of the eateries surveyed failed to meet Restaurant Opportunities’ standards or declined to answer all the group’s questions. Rosanne Martino, general manager of New York’s One if by Land, Two if by Sea, which scored well, says she doubts customers will patronize the restaurant because it offers paid sick days. “I don’t think they care. I wish they did.”


    The bottom line: A food guide penned by a workers’ rights group grades 186 of America’s largest restaurants on how well they treat their employees.

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