Go into most fine dining establishments. Who is on the waitstaff? Who is in the kitchen? The folks in the back, say activists, tend to be immigrants or minorities, who also tend to earn less. The front of the house folks are more likely to be white and, in the best restaurants, male. They are also likely to earn more.
One of the aims of the Restaurant Opportunities Center is to even out this disparity. You can read my Philadelphia Inquirer story about the organization by clicking here. That's why training is an important component of the group's mission and why Philadelphia's newly-formed ROC is launching classes in August.
Sekou Siby, co-director of the New York ROC, says that for many minorities in low-income communities, dining out amounts to McDonald's or the local pizzeria. Needless to say, the proper placement of a salad fork isn't really an issue, and nobody behind the counter at MickyD's is monitoring if a customer's water glass needs to be refilled. The fine-dining mindset is different and needs to be learned if back-of-the-house folks hope to move into higher-paying jobs serving customers or tending bar.
The devotion to diversity, Siby said, has to spread throughout the organization. "We had a problem in Miami," he said. The group was too dominated by Latino restaurant workers, he said. It had to deliberately expand its recruiting to include Haitians, who live in Florida and regularly work back-of-the-house jobs.