What might we find “Behind the Kitchen Door” of the restaurants in which we dine? Discrimination, exploitation, unsanitary kitchens, and some of the poorest paid workers in America, according to Food Labor Research Center director Saru Jayaraman. In her new book, Jayaraman follows the lives of restaurant workers across America and explores how what takes place behind the scenes when we dine out affects the meals we eat there. She joins us in the studio.

2013 ROC National Diners' Guide to Ethical Eating

Saru Jayaramun, author of "Behind the Kitchen Door;" co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United; and director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley

  • Rorden Gamsay

    I enjoy watching the TV series Kitchen Nightmares, which shows the worst of the worst, but based on what I’ve experienced and heard about over the years, I suspect food, cleanliness and labor standards are low in a large percentage of restaurants. I’ve heard of roadkill being served as chicken (Chinese restaurant), horse meat served as chicken (Thai restaurant), dog food in tacos (Taco Bell), raw meat stored outdoors next to dumpsters during health inspections (Golden Corral), never-cleaned bathrooms that reek of urine (Borders, B&N), migrants sexually harassing waitresses (Mexican restaurants), silicone added to pizza cheese at the factory intentionally (Pizza Hut), workers stomping on lettuce and them serving it (Subway), human feces put into chocolate ice cream (Australia), or human feces put into burritos that killed a teenage girl (possibly in Bakersfield).
    And yet, in my experience, filing a complaint with health inspectors is often futile. Inspectors are lazy and tend to side with businesses.

    Deer meat dining:

    Ice cream:
    Taco Bell:

    Soup kitchen:

  • geraldfnord

    Not caring about the health and happiness of those who prepare and serve your food is idiocy on the level of taunting the man shaving your neck with a straight-razor.

    It’s almost as dumb as planting several states’ worth of genetically identical maize…I don’t blame victims, For bad values of ‘it’, ‘He asked for it,’ is an irrelevant moral judgement when at most one should stick to a practical ‘This did not help his odds,’…but I feel like we’re asking for it.

  • Robert Thomas

    Are the cash-register-located tip jars one sees at places like Starbucks and Subway Sandwich placed there by management in order to classify the workers there as “tipped”? Or do these jars have no such effect or purpose?

    • Robert Thomas

      Apparently, not- at least, in California- if I heard correctly.

  • regsf

    What about the French system where the tip or gratuity is included in the bill? This not only makes it fairer for the server but takes the politics out of deciding on a server tip?

  • geraldfnord

    In my day, the old people didn’t complain so much—not at all like the old people these days.

  • Robert Thomas

    Years ago, I moved from one well-paying engineering job for a well-established Silicon Valley employer to another, similar job in a nearby employer in a related field. Though the products were dissimilar, the two employers were comparable in size and success etc.

    However, one of these employers allowed separate accounting for sick days and accrued vacation time, while the other convolved sick days and vacation days; that is, they essentially allowed unused sick days to be used as vacation time. I wasn’t the only one who thought the latter scheme was plainly stupid and irresponsible, but management and “Human Resources” seemed weirdly insensible to this.

    Whether it’s an unskilled worker laboring in a kitchen or a supply-chain middle manager, people are far more likely to want to go to work than they want to malinger. It’s stupid to encourage anyone to go to work with infectious illness.

    • Robert Thomas

      Ha! If I got the down vote for suggesting that those laboring in kitchens lack skills, I deserved it.

  • elementalchick1

    There are ways for consumers to identify products like fair trade and
    organic certification. Do you have such a program that restaurants can
    sign up for, like cosmetic companies have for good ingredients (EWG),
    and get listed or a logo for their window?Like a good employer Zagat?

  • John H. Webster

    Saru obviously knows next to nothing about how the Free Market works. Why would the fact that some restaurants pay their workers higher than minimum wage be a justification for raising that minimum wage? It is a good example of why there should be no such wage law.
    Also, since the perceived nationality of the servers is clearly part of the ambiance, of course the owners should be able to discriminate on who they hire or promote.

    If Saru thinks she knows better than most restaurant owners how to run a restaurant, there is nothing to stop her from buying and running her own restaurant, and then let her try and compete.

  • SFreader

    Wouldn’t establishing a minimum wage for restaurant workers
    (or workers in any industry for that matter) result in a higher unemployment rate among unskilled, inexperienced, entry level job seekers? If a restaurant owner has to pay $10/hr vs. $5/hr, I suspect he or she is unlikely to hire someone with no prior experience.

  • MattCA12

    Laughing at the guest’s economics…$10/hr to treat your workers well? Sure, as long as we’re all prepared for those entrees go to $50 per plate.
    If this is such a brilliant idea, and so clearly beneficial economically, why aren’t restaurant owners doing it? Because they could never afford it! And Darden is hardly representative here; the vast majority of restaurants are independently owned or franchised.

  • Ashley

    I made a petition with the white house on this very issue earlier today. My co-worker shared this with me. Now the IRS plans starting next year to treat gratuities as a wage and are going to tax it as such. This is what made me and to make the petition.

    First here’s my petition

    Second, here’s that article

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