Back of the House

Checking the color line in restaurants.

By Julianne Hing Jul 01, 2008

WHEN IT’S ALWAYS a Latino male who busses your table and sweeps the floor and a white male who takes your order—and your tips—is it merely coincidental? The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York spent the last two years canvassing restaurants, setting up focus groups and sending 43 matched pairs into restaurants. The results are educational, if not surprising.

The group found that employers use a vague but clearly racialized set of criteria to hire an overwhelmingly male and disproportionately white staff for the most lucrative “front of the house” jobs, while people of color are sent to the “back of the house.” In the study, employers expressed little interest in hiring whites as runners and bussers because they are not as “willing” as Latinos to stay at the same low-wage job.

Armed with this initial data, the group is now planning to organize restaurant workers in cities across the country to fight for equitable wages and hiring practices. For more information, go to