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Feb. 9 2010 - 7:26 pm | 168 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

New report serves up Chicago’s restaurant industry on a platter


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More than 80 percent of the cooks, servers, hosts, busboys and bartenders in the Chicago metropolitan area make less than $10 an hour, according to a new report on the restaurant industry released today.

In case you’re wondering, the report pegs a living wage — pay that allows a worker to support him- or herself and a family without government assistance — at $16.48 an hour. 

“Behind the Kitchen Door” was compiled by the Chicagoland Restaurant Industry Coalition, a group of academics, workers rights advocates, unions, and restaurant owners and employees. The findings are based on 582 worker surveys, plus interviews with restaurant workers and employers in Cook County, conducted between Sept. 2008 and May 2009.

There are approximately 9,500 eating and drinking establishments in Cook County, for a total of more than 171,000 jobs. That’s 6.8 percent of the jobs in the county. 

But as the table shows, just because you have a job doesn’t mean you’re above the poverty line.  


The people filling these jobs are a diverse mix: 36 percent Latino, 38 percent white and 18 percent black. Just under two-thirds were born in the United States. Approximately 66 percent speak English well; about 8 percent do not speak it at all.

The report found that most of the non-white workers toiled in the “back of the house,” where they were paid less and less likely to advance. Moreover, they also worked longer hours and faced greater on-the-job health and safety hazards.  

Tomorrow we’re going to look at some of the report’s most interesting findings, those related to the owners and managers of the city’s restaurants. They say they want to pay higher wages. They just don’t.



7 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    This report rings true to my own labor experience in restaurants….

    except at a “fine dining” restaurant chain (that will remain unnamed!) where some back of the house members, who couldn’t speak english (cooks, salad bar attendants, dish washers) actually made significantly more than some of the staff at the front of the house (hosts, bus boys, waiters that got shitty shifts). The back of the house gets a starting rate of about $7.50 while the front of house starts at waiter’s wages…. a measly $4.85.

  2. collapse expand

    Isn’t the minimum wage for tipped employees less than those in the back of the house? It was when I waited tables.

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    I'm a freelance journalist based in Chicago. I've written for a lot of places no one's ever heard of, a few places they have, and I share the philosophy of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who said, "No man but a a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." The sentiment jives nicely with the beat I've assigned myself: organized labor and workers rights in the City of Big Shoulders (and other places, too, as the mood strikes). We're dealing in news here, people. If you want my opinion, buy me a drink.

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