Behind the Kitchen Door: Inequality & Opportunity in Washington, DC’s
riving Restaurant Industry
was con-ceived of and designed by the DC Restaurant Industry Coalition - a broad gathering of academics, policy analysts, worker advocates, worker organizers, unions, restaurant workers and restaurant industry employers.
is report rep-resents one of the most comprehensive research analyses ever conducted on the restaurant industry in Washington,DC.
e report uses data from 510 worker surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups with 30 restaurant workers, and30 interviews with restaurant industry employers in the District.
e data was collected over a one-year period.
eresults of this primary research are supplemented with analyses of industry and government data, such as the 2009American Community Survey, and reviews of existing academic literature.Our study was inspired by the need for examination and analysis of the overall health of the restaurant industry, which is fundamental to Washington, DC’s economy and critical to the lives of thousands of restaurant workers andemployers.
e restaurant industry is an important and growing source of locally-based jobs, and provides consid-erable opportunity for the development of successful businesses. It is therefore essential to make information aboutthe industry from the perspectives of both workers and employers available to all stakeholders to ensure sustainablegrowth in the industry.
A Resilient and Growing Industry
Washington, DC is home to a vibrant, resilient, and growing restaurant industry.
e industry includes more than2,019 food service and drinking places that contribute to the region’s tourism, hospitality and entertainment sec-tors and to the economy as a whole. Washington, DC restaurants employ more than 36,000 workers, or 7.81% of the District’s total employment. In 2007, the Washington, DC restaurant industry accounted for an estimated $144million of the District’s sales tax revenue (see Chapter II).Perhaps the industry’s most important contribution to the region’s economy is the thousands of job opportunities andcareer options it provides.
e District’s restaurant industry continued its growth even through the current economicrecession and has outpaced that of the city’s overall economy. Since formal credentials are not a requirement for themajority of restaurant jobs, the industry provides employment opportunities for new immigrants, workers who haveno formal quali
cations, and young people just starting out in the workforce.
Many Bad Jobs, A Few Good Ones
ere are two roads to pro
tability in the restaurant industry – the “high road” and the “low road.” Restaurant em-ployers who take the high road are the source of the best jobs in the industry – those that provide livable wages, ac-cess to health bene
ts, and opportunities for advancement in the industry. Taking the low road to pro
tability, how-ever, creates low-wage jobs with long hours, few bene
ts, and exposure to dangerous and often unlawful workplaceconditions. Many restaurant employers in Washington appear to be taking the low road, creating a predominantly low-wage industry in which violations of employment and health and safety laws are commonplace. While there are a few “good” jobs in the restaurant industry, the majority are “bad” jobs, characterized by very low wages, few bene
ts, and limited opportunities for upward mobility or increased income. In our survey of restaurant workers, the vast majority (89.4%) reported that their employers do not o
er them health insurance (see ChapterIII). Earnings in the restaurant industry also lag behind those of the entire private sector. In terms of annual earn-ings, restaurant workers on average made only $22,818 in 2009 compared to $70,987 for the total private sector, ac-cording to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers in our study alsoreported overtime and minimum wage violations, a lack of health and safety training, and the failure to implementother health and safety measures in their workplaces. Of all the workers surveyed in our study, 33.5% reported ex-periencing overtime violations and 35.4% reported working “o
the clock” without being paid.