Flawed Research

The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) supports its grievances against the restaurant industry with in-house research drawn primarily from “convenience” surveys of restaurant employees in its network of contacts. These surveys are supplemented by government data.

A review of the evidence shows that ROC’s so-called studies of the restaurant industry are biased by their survey methodology, and that even when using government data, the organization misrepresents the facts.

What’s Behind Behind the Kitchen Door?

The majority of ROC’s research is based on restaurant employee survey data that eight local ROC chapters collected as part of a project called Behind the Kitchen Door. Reading the fine print of the report is important: In small methodology notes at the end of their reports, ROC acknowledges that their surveys aren’t random but rather conducted based on “convenience.” These “convenience” samples, conveniently for ROC, are collected by sympathetic groups like “worker advocates” and “worker organizers” and “unions.” Since ROC doesn’t make the data publicly available along with their reports, verifying the accuracy of their claims isn’t possible.

But it seems that’s how ROC prefers it. Consider a study released recently by the organization’s Miami chapter, which claimed that 90 percent of restaurant employees in the Miami-Dade region lacked access to paid sick time, and that almost half had worked while sick. The fine print buried in the back of the study offered this giant caveat: These results were based on a survey of just 200 restaurant employees. The fact that their “statistic” was based on a sample of roughly one-quarter of one percent of the region’s restaurant staff didn’t keep the organization from trumpeting it as fact.

Twisting the Facts to Fit Their Narrative

ROC’s most provocative claims don’t stand up to basic scrutiny. Take their claim of gender discrimination in the industry, which rests on observations like this: According to the Census Bureau, most restaurants’ head chefs are men. ROC fails to mention that—again, according to the Census Bureau—well over half of front-line restaurant supervisors are women. A statistic like this one could not exist in an industry where women were systematically discriminated against.

Or consider their lament of “poverty wages” paid in the restaurant industry. ROC highlights the $2.13 base wage for tipped employees as evidence for their claim, but fails to mention that Census Bureau data show the average wage for a tipped restaurant employee (with tips included) is nearly $12 an hour. Employees near the top of the wage distribution earn $24 an hour or higher.

ROC’s Double Standard

One of the organization’s more bizarre complaints in their Tipped Over the Edge report is that the restaurant industry requires its employees to work at times when people are interested in dining out—“evenings, nights, weekends, and other non-traditional hours.”

Yet there’s hypocrisy in ROC’s complaint: In job postings for the organization, ROC has included the same requirements. Consider this recent posting for a policy coordinator in New Orleans, which specifies that an applicant must “have a flexible schedule to accommodate some weekend and evening hours.” It’s a requirement that ROC only seems to mind when it’s practiced by others.