Minorities and women working in the city's top restaurants are often segregated out of the best-paying jobs and don't earn as much as their white male counterparts, a workers' advocacy group charged in a new report.
"The restaurant industry is rife with behavior that is not only a violation of America's ethos of equal opportunity but is also illegal," said Mark Bendick Jr., an employment economist who directed the testing in the report from the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York.
The report, released Tuesday looked at the hiring practices, career opportunities and salaries in the city's fine-dining restaurants. The report focused on expensive establishments because jobs there can come with substantial earning potential.
The city's restaurant industry is one of largest in the country. According to the New York State Restaurant Association, there are close to 25,000 restaurant and food service establishments in the city, more than can be found in most states.
As a whole, the industry, which employs about 200,000 people, is predominantly made up of minorities. But most of those workers are not in fine-dining venues. Of those who are, most tend to be in low-wage positions like runners, bussers and barbacks instead of better-paying roles of maitre'd, manager or bartender, the report found.
It's those jobs "where you're able to make a living wage," said Rekha Eanni Rodriguez, co-director of ROC-NY, who said some of the best jobs could have incomes of $50,000 to $80,000. "You can make good money, it's a matter of who's making that money."
As part of the study, pairs of "testers" were sent to apply for restaurant jobs. They had similar resumes, but one was white and the other a minority. The study found that white applicants were more likely to get interviews and job offers, and the work experience of minorities was more likely to be scrutinized.
Analyzing salary data showed that minorities and women earned less than white men and gained less benefit for having additional education and experience than whites and men did.
The report found discrimination could be either deliberate or unspoken, and attributed the impact of it to a culture of informality in the restaurant industry in terms of not having procedures, guidance and infrastructure in place to make sure stereotypes and bias didn't interfere in employment.
"The more informal the human resources practices the more ikely bias gets to operate in things like hiring decisions and wages," Bendick said. "The restaurant industry, which has traditionally flown by the seat of its pants, is exactly the kind of circumstance where unconscious stereotypes tend to govern
Andrew Rigie, director of operations for the greater New York City chapter of the NYSRA, said the report raised important issues and highlighted the need for more education in the industry. But he also defended the restaurant business as one that provided opportunities for women and minorities, often faster than other fields.
"Whether they own restaurants or work in retaurants they can move through the ranks often quicker than they can in other industries," he said.
The report called for restaurants to take steps including formalizing hiring and promotion procedures, promoting from within, offering training and increasing wages. It also called on policymakers to enact legislation that would require restaurants to have better hiring practices and to protect workers from violations of federal equal opportunity laws.
"We're hopeful people are going to see what an important issue this is," Rodriguez said.