Workers' rights

Working conditions in restaurants can be demanding – they often include long working hours, overtime without appropriate compensation, inadequate rest days and a stressful and sometimes abusive working environment.

Low wages in restaurants, for waiters and waitresses, chefs and kitchen staff, as well as cleaning personnel, are common and in some cases, they do not meet minimum wage requirements or allow workers to reach an adequate standard of living. Low salaries in restaurants are sometimes justified by the fact that staff normally receive tips. However, employees often have to hand over large parts of their tips to restaurant managers.

Restaurant staff often work long working hours and are expected to work overtime without receiving adequate compensation. High stress levels at peak times may lead to a tense atmosphere in restaurants and restaurant kitchens, where verbal and physical abuse is widespread. Many employees do not come forward with their complaints because of the intimidating working environment, strict hierarchies, and the fear of losing their job. Terminations of contract without prior or adequate notice are common and are often announced directly at the time of a (perceived) mistake.

Many restaurants, and especially small or family-owned businesses, only provide casual jobs, transmitting the risks related to seasonality or customer volume directly onto their employees. Casual or seasonal work arrangements often do not include paid holidays or time off. Uncertain work contracts and the extensive use of temporary and seasonal workers may also mean that employees are excluded from social security systems. 

Restaurants and cafés provide numerous job opportunities for people with a low level of education and for migrant workers, resulting in a high number of employees coming from vulnerable groups. Large power imbalances and dependencies may lead to exploitation and unequal opportunities.  

Many restaurant employees lack career perspectives and are not provided with training opportunities.

Working conditions in restaurants: Global
Immigrants restaurant workers: Toronto
Job segmentation by gender and race
Working conditions in restaurants: Global

Bad working conditions in restaurants for kitchen and wait staff are well-known and well-covered in the media across the world. Various articles (see below) have reported strict hierarchical structures in kitchens and restaurant management, rough conversational tones, widespread verbal abuse and bullying, and physical abuse.

High stress levels can also lead to a high consumption of alcohol and drugs, which is common in the industry.

Furthermore, direct and constant customer feedback, intensified by the use of social media, increase the pressure on restaurant managers, chefs, and staff.


Survey on tipping habits of restaurant customers

Bookatable, an online service for making restaurant reservations, asked their users in German-speaking countries about their tipping habits.

34 percent of survey participants said they leave tips because they think waiters receive low wages. 55 percent reported that they pay tips to honour good service. 11 percent of customers prefer not to tip at all, either because they think it is already included in the price, or because eating in restaurants is costly enough without tipping. Restaurant owners were also involved in the survey. According to them, income from tipping has been decreasing.  

Immigrants restaurant workers: Toronto

Chinese restaurant workers underpaid and overworked

A Toronto-based community organization supporting low income, non-English speaking members of the Chinese and Southeast Asian communities in Toronto, surveyed the working conditions in Chinese restaurants in the city. They found that many workers were paid less than the minimum wage and did not receive overtime pay. Some were also owed wages by employers. Complaints were rare, because according to the report, the typical worker is male, older, immigrant and afraid of losing his job. People with an uncertain and precarious immigration status, and whose residence permits are tied to their working contract, are particularly vulnerable for abusive working conditions. Age, gender, language barriers, and lack of awareness or knowledge about employment standards and occupational health and safety rights also appear to increase workers’ vulnerability to employer exploitation and abuse.

Job segmentation by gender and race

Job segmentation by gender and race 

In the food and beverage sector, employment conditions are often precarious for all workers. However, there are specific segmentation patterns by which white people mainly occupy the most visible jobs, especially in restaurants’ reception. At the same time, women and people discriminated by race work in the kitchen, preparing food and washing dishes. These hierarchies produce differences not only in wages but also in social benefits, training and progress opportunities, and in working conditions. For instance, most immigrant workers rarely have access to a promotion and are trapped in the same job category. Therefore, jobs are often not assigned by skill and experience, but by racial, gender, and migratory status differences.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate clauses on working conditions in contracts / Supplier Code of Conduct with restaurants (business partners).

Supplier assessment

  • Check the working conditions of staff employed on restaurants (business partners) through second- and third-party audits.

Training and capacity building

  • Train procurement staff on the issue of working conditions in restaurants and how they can address these when interacting with suppliers.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.