In the National Wage Debate, The Restaurant World is Particularly Divided

wage equality wage debate

By Jesse Noyes, Senior Director, Marketing at Upserve


Across the country, wage equality and the gender pay gap has been a hot button issue in many industries.

The wage debate has continued to make headlines this year, with everyone from political candidates to A-list celebrities speaking out about the inequality that millions of Americans see reflected in their paychecks. While it may be that women working in finance, technical and management careers that are often the poster children for this pay disparity, the effects of the gender pay gap are highly visible in the restaurant industry as well—where wages are already low, and the workforce is dominated by women.

So why does the restaurant business have such a wage gap issue? In many ways, it’s a numbers game. Per a report from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, 7 of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the United States are restaurant occupations. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters (71%) of restaurant servers—one of the lowest paid front-of-house roles in a restaurant—are women. Although the total number of restaurant workers is split fairly evenly between the genders, an overwhelming 64% of all lower paying front-of-house positions are staffed by women. In many cases, this sets the scene for a large population of the restaurant workforce, who are already in lower-paying roles, making significantly less than their male counterparts – putting them at a further financial disadvantage.

wage equality wage debateThe numbers indicate that this financial disadvantage in the restaurant industry is markedly worse than other industries. Everyone is familiar with the oft-cited national average that woman make $.79 to a man’s $1.00. In the restaurant industry, this gap is much more significant: women make $.67 to a man’s $1.00 (On average, in restaurants, men make $15 dollars an hour and women make $10).

It appears that state by state minimum wage increases may slightly be helping the cause, as states with the highest minimum wages do report slightly less gender wage inequality. However, across the board, women are still more widely employed in restaurant roles (predominantly front-of-house) in the states that pay the lowest wages.

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wage equality wage debateThough this trend points to a much larger issue on a national scale, spanning many industries, it’s important for restaurant owners to know that those working in the hospitality field are significantly impacted by it as well. As a restaurant owner or manager, it is vitally important to be aware of and involved with all of your internal operations, and that includes salary and wages across staff.  Implementing procedures like regular performance reviews can help open a dialogue around compensation, and empower employees to speak up if they feel wages aren’t on par with the level of work they’re doing. It’s also important for restaurant owners to be aware of how their wages compare to local competitors, and the industry at large.

Having these tough conversations can improve turnover rates, and protect a restaurant’s operations in the long-term. Proactively choosing to get better insight into how you’re paying your employees,  and identifying where disparities may exist, can be the first step to addressing this inequality head-on.