A labor group surveyed restaurants in Chicago and found significant segregation between front-of-house workers (waiters, hosts) and back-of-house staff (busboys, dishwashers). The study “found that nearly 80 percent of whites work in the front, nearly two-thirds of Latinos in the back.”
To those of us who have worked in the restaurant business this doesn’t seem like news at all – the discrimination is all too prevalent. Common all over Chicago’s pubs and steakhouses, we see that “taking the order or seating the clients is the girl next door or a suave older man, most likely white, while a cadre of young Mexican men construct the meal behind the scenes.”
Taking the issue to task, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Chicago teamed with the Working Hands Legal Clinic to file a federal lawsuit against one Andersonville eatery, claiming that the establishment mistreated its kitchen staff. McCormick and Schmicks’ chain just settled a $1.1 claim from black employees who said they weren’t considered for hosts and servers.
But in the restaurants’ defense, aren’t they hiring based on a special skill set required for that position, not based on race? For example, knowledge of food and wine pairings or simply communicating a food order in English.
I would argue that while restaurants don’t always discriminate blatantly, they rarely train or promote their current back-of-house staff. Wouldn’t a restaurant get better long-term results from a staffer with a long employment history at the restaurant, happy to be promoted, than a new hire? Busboy to server would be the perfect transition, for example.
To read the full report in the Chicago Tribune, click here.