Survey: Consumers support improved conditions for restaurant workers – National Consumers League

January 16, 2013

Contact: Carol McKay, NCL Communications (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC—American consumers overwhelmingly support better conditions for restaurant workers, according to a new survey conducted by ORC International for the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneer consumer organization. In an industry that is commonly characterized by anti-worker policies, including incidents of wage theft, a lack of paid sick days, and a poverty-level minimum wage that hasn’t increased in more than 20 years, restaurant workers—and what they experience behind the scenes—are, in fact, a concern for dining patrons.

“Consumers have spoken very clearly in overwhelming support for workers who serve them at dining establishments, how much they are earning, and whether they are forced to come to work when sick,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “And they should. It’s not just a matter of compassion; it’s a matter of public health.”

At an event in Washington, DC today, NCL released the survey’s findings and, teaming up with ROC United and ROC United DC, convened a discussion with restaurant workers and restaurant owners to shine a light on the conditions, pay, and benefits of restaurant workers and showcase the successful business models of restaurateurs who do provide a more fair and equitable workplace.

Restaurant workers from the Washington, DC area gave an insider’s view on the industry and how workers are often exploited. Local DC area restaurant owners and chefs, including Andy Shallal of Busboys & Poets and Chef Tate of Inspire BBQ, shared insights about how management can provide a livable wage and healthy environment while being commercially successful.

“We’re very grateful to the National Consumers League and consumers in general for appreciating the struggles of restaurant workers and wanting to see change in this industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder of ROC United. “Together, workers, consumers, and responsible employers can produce a better restaurant industry and dining experience for everyone.”

Survey findings: Paid sick days

Consumers overwhelmingly (92 percent) believe that it’s very important or important that the servers and cooks in the restaurants they frequent do not cook or serve while sick. Given 2011 research by ROC that found that 90 percent of restaurant workers reported not having paid sick days, there is a major disconnect between consumer expectations and industry realities. Among those surveyed by NCL, more than half (57 percent) believe that it’s very important or important that the restaurant they frequent provide workers with paid sick days.

“Without having the benefit of paid sick days, restaurant workers can’t afford to be sick and are forced to come to work—and handle consumers’ food—when they should be at home resting,” said Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Project on Wage Theft. “Providing paid sick days is very clearly in the interest of consumers and the workers who handle their food. This is especially critical now that a serious flu epidemic is sweeping the country.”

Survey findings: Servers’ wages

More than three-quarters of those surveyed (78 percent) agreed that it’s very important or important that the restaurants they eat in pay their workers fairly for the wages that they are owed. When leaving a tip, expectations are that all the money goes to the server, not to the restaurant. According to the survey, 82 percent of consumers believe that it’s very important or important that the full tip they leave for their server goes to the person who served them.

Many consumers are not aware that leaving credit card tips may result in servers not getting the full amount. It is a rarely reported reality that some restaurants withhold a percentage of servers’ tips from credit card payments. The practice recently resulted in celebrity chef / restaurant owner Mario Batali and his business partners settling a tip skimming class action lawsuit for $5.25 million. In fact, 66 percent of those surveyed said they did not know that their server might not receive the full tip if they left it on their credit card. With that knowledge, 89 percent of consumers said they were more likely to leave their tip in cash if they knew that restaurant management might take a portion of tips left on credit cards.

Survey findings: The tipped minimum wage

Times are tighter than ever for those working in the restaurant industry. According to ROC United, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90 an hour, just below the poverty line for a family of three. It has been 22 years since the federal tipped minimum wage, currently $2.13 an hour, was increased. According to the new NCL survey, 87 percent of consumers agree that the federal tipped minimum wage should be increased.

“Many consumers are not aware that restaurant servers actually depend on tips. With their base pay—the federal tipped minimum wage—remaining at a paltry $2.13 an hour for more than two decades, as inflation and the cost of living have skyrocketed, and Americans have suffered from recessions, servers are in dire need of increased wages,” said Greenberg. “And they’re not currently getting them.”

See NCL’s full survey and results.



These results are based on 1,024 telephone interviews among a random sample of US adults 18 years old and older. Interviews were conducted over the period December 13-16, 2012, utilizing both landline and cell telephones. Results among total sample have an error margin of +/- 3%. Interviewing was conducted on behalf of National Consumers League using ORC International’s CARAVAN® survey.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit