Six of the ten lowest-paying jobs in the country are in restaurants:1

  • Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers
  • Fast Food Cooks
  • Dishwashers
  • Counter Attendants, Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop
  • Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurants, Lounge and Coffee Shop
  • Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers

Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City2

Job Classification Number Employed Percentage
Short Order Cooks 5,440 1.267
Chefs and Head Cooks 11,750 2.736
Fast Food Cooks 12,630 2.940
Hosts and Hostesses 14,310 3.332
Non-Restaurant Servers 19,480 4.535
Bussers and Barbacks 21,450 4.994
Dishwashers 26,020 6.058
Bartenders 27,210 6.335
Counter Attendants and Baristas 30,320 7.059
Supervisors and Managers 37,300 8.684
Restaurant Cooks 48,750 11.350
Food Prep Workers 50,130 11.671
Waiters and Waitresses 124,740 29.041
_____ _____
429,530 100.000



Violations reported in all industry segments, but appear to be concentrated in
(1) expensive “white table cloth” restaurants and (2) independent family-style restaurants, including ethnic restaurants. Fast food and chain and franchise restaurants appear to have fewer violations.


“Back of the house” restaurant jobs: Dishwashers, delivery persons, food prep, line cooks, and porters.
“Front of the house” restaurant jobs: Bussers, runners, bathroom attendants, barbacks, cashiers, counter persons and coat checkers (and in some restaurants, waiters, waitresses and hosts).

Typical wages

    Back of the house jobs:

  • Dishwasher: $180 – $300 per week.
  • Delivery person: $120 – $200 per week.
  • Line cook/food prep: $250 – $400 per week.
    Front of the house jobs:

  • Busser/barback: $150 – $200 per week including tips.
  • Runner: $120 – $180 per week (rush hours only, usually paid as
    percentage of tips).
  • Coat check & bathroom attendants: $20 – $80 a night.
  • Cashiers/counter persons: $222 – $320 per week.
  • Waiters/waitresses: $300 – $480 per week including tips.

Typical hours
On average, kitchen staff tend to work 6 days a week, between 8 and 12 hours a day, with some dishwashers and cooks working double shifts. In the front of the restaurant, bussers and runners work the same hours as kitchen staff. Wait staff tend to work 3–5 days per week (hours can range from 20–45 per week).

Payment method
Dishwashers, runners, bussers, and delivery persons tend to be off the books, while servers, bartenders and managerial jobs are more likely to be on the books. High-end and chain restaurants have the majority of their sales on credit cards, which can force more jobs to be on the books.

Health benefits are generally not offered to front-line staff; when offered, the employee co–pay is usually high, resulting in low take-up rates. In the kitchen, workers may get one week unpaid vacation, but no sick days.

Immigration status
High representation of undocumented immigrants in back of the house jobs (as well as some lower-wage jobs in the front). But long tenures in the industry mean that there are also significant numbers of documented immigrants.


(1) Employment agencies for immigrant workers and (2) much less frequently, non-profit public agencies for people transitioning off welfare or out of prison. At employment agencies, placement fees range from $50 up to a weeks’ earnings, paid by the worker, plus possibly an additional $25 application fee. Some employment agencies specialize in restaurant placements for Mexican workers.


Minimum wage and overtime

  • Minimum wage: The industry’s pay structure of flat weekly wages for more than full-time work suggests that minimum wage violations are common. For example, typical earnings of $300 per week for 60 hours translates into an hourly wage of $5 (without considering time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours). Coat checkers and delivery persons can make as low as $3 an hour.
  • Overtime: Non-payment of overtime appears common for almost all positions.
  • Tips: For tipped positions, common violations include being paid only in tips, or the employer taking a percentage of tips. Bussers often do not get tips owed them.

Non-payment of wages
Occurs mainly for kitchen jobs, especially dishwashers. Can take the form of full non-payment, partial non-payment, or several months backlog of payment.

Illegal deductions
Workers report employers deducting arbitrary amounts from wages for broken plates, spoiled food, etc.

Meal breaks
Lack of meal breaks, or erratic meal breaks, is a pervasive problem. A single meal break for a 12-hour shift is common.

Employer taxes
Restaurants are heavily cash-based, and most workers do not receive pay stubs. Employer taxes are often not paid, or not paid for the actual number of workers on site.

Health & safety violations occur mainly in kitchens: electrical dangers, inadequate fire safety, lack of cutting guards on machines, lack of slip mats, lack of required ventilation.

Workers’ Compensation
Rarely offered. Employers may pay a one-time hospital bill out of pocket in order to avoid an official claim, and instruct workers to say that the injury did not occur at work.

Evidence of discrimination in hiring and promotion on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and accent – particularly for front of the house jobs. Harassment based on national origin and gender.

Retaliation & the right to organize
Employers’ retaliation in response to complaints about working conditions and attempts to organize include threats to call immigration, punishing the worker with bad shifts or bad hours, and outright retaliatory firing.


1The 10 Lowest Paid Jobs in America
2Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City
3Unregulated Work in the Restaurant Industry in New York City
The Welcome Table

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bob Holman
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 10:29:58

    7-Eleven store associate hourly wage can be as low as $7.25/hr; $8.44 average (from Payscale and Glassdoor). 7-Eleven store associates are required to have English fluency: “Must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with customers and coworkers.” They are also subjected to background checks — no undocumented immigrants allowed.

    Mean average for a cook’s wage, nation-wide, $11.20/hr; median: $10.29/hr; lowest 10%: $8.14/hr (BLS). No language requirement, no background check.

    So replacing a 7-Eleven with a restaurant in NYC would improve the wage prospects of overall immigrant workers, documented as well as undocumented unless it were a chain restaurant — a McDonalds cook wage averages, according to Glassdoor, $7.41/hr.

    Is it easier to organize labor in a giant corporation? Maybe, but giant corps also have greater political clout the larger they are, so there is a danger of promoting corporatocracy. In one way it’s the meeting of Stalinism and libertarianism — “free” market corporatocracy replaces the totalitarian state, the “internal contradiction” of libertarianism, trading one form of control (government) for another (corporate giants). Reminds me of a Maoist friend who voted for Giuliani thinking that his reactionary policies would spark a revolution. Instead we have rampant gentrification.


    • shmnyc
      Apr 29, 2013 @ 21:46:55

      Bob, Greetings. If N7E advocated for better pay and working conditions for undocumented workers, I’d find it easier to believe that they were concerned about them.

      There are two contradictory claims being made. One is advancing opportunities for undocumented workers, the other is increasing the overall wage receipts in the neighborhood. Both can’t be happening at the same time. If you’re advancing the opportunities of undocumented workers, you are not advancing overall wages, as we all know undocumented workers are paid below minimum wage.

      The wage numbers that I used are for New York City and take into consideration that many restaurant workers are paid fixed, weekly rates, that translate into low hourly rates (even below minimum wage) after a 50- or 60-hour week. And then there are: 1) small business exemptions from various laws that protect workers in larger companies; and 2) violations of laws.

      It’s not to say working at a 7-Eleven is a good job. It’s low-paying and dead-end, and I’m sure has plenty of labor violations. Some restaurant jobs are better and higher-paid, others are worse and lower-paid. Total wage receipts might be higher than a 7-Eleven in a given restaurant, but it will be because one or two well-paying jobs skew it upwards.

      A lot of this discussion centers around the fact that there are no good job opportunities, whatever business moves into the location. If workers in restaurants were organized like they once were, there’d be no question that restaurant work was better. But if they were, chances are that 7-Eleven workers would be also, and labor would not be an issue.

      Regarding your Maoist friend, I don’t agree that the worse things are, the better they are. The worse things are, the worse they are.


  2. rob
    May 23, 2013 @ 06:00:41

    No contradiction: 7-Eleven supresses overall wage receipts by consuming large spaces with minimal jobs per sq ft at low wages. 7-Eleven also doesn’t employ undocumented immigrants. So your support of 7-Eleven helps neither labor problem.


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