Black workers in the restaurant industry are routinely kept from the highest-paying jobs in the highest-paying restaurants.1 They're told their appearance isn't the right fit. They're relegated to fast food while their White peers climb the ranks to earn upwards of $50,000 a year.2
One of the industry's serial offenders is Darden Restaurants, the company that owns and operates Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and the high-end Capital Grille.
Black applicants are rarely hired at the Capital Grille, the only place within the company where workers can earn a living wage. And there's no clear pipeline for workers to get from jobs at Red Lobster and Olive Garden to that higher-paid work.3
Darden is now facing a lawsuit because of its employment practices.4 Tell the company to respond to its workers' demands and institute a promotions policy that allows Black workers to advance to liveable wage positions at the Capital Grille. It only takes a moment:
Black workers in the restaurant industry earn on average $4 less per hour than White workers, according to a report from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United).5 The reason lies in both the types of jobs and the types of restaurants that tend to be open to workers of color. For example, fine-dining bartenders are more than three times more likely to be White than Black, and servers at expensive restaurants are almost four times more likely to be White.
This level of discrimination is happening in one of the few industries that's growing, even during our current recession. Restaurants account for one of every 12 private sector jobs.6 But despite the growth in this sector, Blacks are routinely pushed into the industry's poverty-wage jobs.
It's a problem nationwide. A study of expensive restaurants in Manhattan found that White applicants were twice as likely to get a job offer than applicants of color, who were less likely to even land an interview. The study also found that prospective employers were more likely to scrutinize the work experience of applicants of color.7
The problem with Darden
Darden runs nearly 2,000 restaurants nationwide and boasts annual sales of $7.5 billion.8,9 But the few Black workers who make it into the big leagues there often don't stay very long. According to reports from two Black servers who worked at Darden's Capital Grille in DC -- a restaurant patronized by politicians, lobbyists, and others in the Washington elite -- Black front-of-the-house staff were let go en masse within a short period of time because they "didn't fit the company image." They were all replaced by White workers.10
Despite the pattern of racial discrimination, Darden -- the world's largest full-service restaurant company -- ranks in the "Top 100 Places to Work," an annual list published by Fortune Magazine.11 The company gets high marks for a diverse workforce (of course, there's no mention of who works which jobs) and for generating the third-most job growth of all the companies on the 2011 list.12
The company's CEO is Clarence Otis Jr., an African-American businessman. In an interview with USA Today, Otis boasts about his company's "talent evaluation process" and practice of providing employees with "advanced training and development."13 But that's not the story that's reveals itself if you talk to the company's Black employees, as our partners at ROC-United have done.14
At a time when Black unemployment is nearly twice the national average and the private sector is being heralded as our greatest hope, Darden's pattern of relegating Black workers to the lowest-wage work is unconscionable.
Please join us in calling on Darden to respond to its workers demands and institute a promotions policy that allows Black workers to advance to liveable wage positions at the Capital Grille. And when you do, please ask your family and friends to do the same. When we win with this company, we'll have a huge impact on the rest of the restaurant industry:
Thanks and Peace,
-- Rashad, Gabriel, Dani, Matt, Natasha, Kim and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
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1. "Blacks in the Restaurant Industry," Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 01-31-12
2. "Racial Bias Seen in Hiring of Waiters," The New York Times, 03-31-09
3. See reference 1.
4. Litigation filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Dignity at Darden website, 1-31-12
5. See reference 1.
6. See reference 1.
7. See reference 2.
8. "Tired of Backing Biased Restaurants? Finally, a Zagat's for Racial Justice," Colorlines, 12-01-11
9. "Frequently Asked Questions," Darden website
10. See reference 1.
11. "100 Best Companies to Work For 2011," Fortune, 01-20-11
12. "Darden Restaurants Named to FORTUNE's '100 Best Companies to Work For' List," Darden press release, 01-20-11
13. "Darden Restaurants CEO has tips on surviving recession," USA Today, 08-17-09
14. "Jay and Marcus's Story," Dignity at Darden website