Racism’s Stinking Up New York City’s Restaurants [VIDEO]

By Julianne Hing Apr 02, 2009

Take a moment and think back to the last time you were at a sit-down restaurant. Who seated you? Who took your order, brought out your food? And who cleared the table and refilled your water? Do these roles tend to break down along certain race and gender lines in the restaurants you eat at? Ever wonder why a lot of restaurant work positions are split along clearly racialized and gendered lines? Or have a hunch but no numbers to back up your suspicions? The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) released a study this week about race and gender discrimination in restaurant hiring practices. Rinku blogged about the findings over at HuffPo:

Although there were some terrible stories of blatant racism and sexism (we’re only looking for Italian looking men today), the lead investigator Mark Bendick pointed out that most of the behavior was heavily coded and not obviously intentional. These days, people know that blatant discrimination is illegal and they take pains not to go there. But our unconscious biases persist and become deeply embedded in restaurant culture in the notion that diners want pretty servers, and pretty means white, or that diners find French accents more charming than Mexican ones.

As much as I can accept that restaurants want to control the image they’re selling with their food, decor and wait staff, I don’t buy that as an excuse to discriminate against people of color and women. AND I take particular issue with the idea that attractive equals white, and that back of the house workers are expected to be people of color. Is this really what consumers want? Rinku has several suggestions:

Diners can help solve the problem by first taking a conscious look around your favorite high-end restaurant, asking some questions about how people get jobs and promotions, and referring owners to this study. The only way to battle unconscious bias is to be explicit and set new standards.

Any restaurant workers, restaurant owners–heck, restaurant patrons, in the house? What’s your experience been?