state of the
restaurant workers

The State of the Restaurant Workers (SORW) is a comprehensive analysis of the restaurant workforce nationwide, tracking demographic information, poverty, public assistance, and unemployment.

Restaurant workers—the majority of whom are women, immigrants and disproportionately workers of color—continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. The findings in this nationwide survey of over 1,000 restaurant workers validate the severe effects of the pandemic on restaurant workers’ lives, and help explain why restaurants continue to struggle with staffing as the economy reopens. The survey was initially conducted in the fall of 2020, with a follow-up survey in late 2021. The complete findings of the survey will be released on February 10, 2022.


State of the Restaurant Workers Report

COVID Impact Survey

As the lives and work of millions of restaurant workers transformed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with their safety in the workplace taking center stage, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United surveyed the status of over 1,000 restaurant workers across the country. The survey focused on restaurant workers’ access to hazard pay and health benefits. We asked restaurant workers about their employment status, whether they received government aid, and tracked how their jobs changed in the midst of the crisis, looking at the financial impacts of the pandemic on the state of restaurant workers across the U.S.


· There are almost 14 million restaurant workers in the U.S.
· Women comprise a majority of the industry
· The median wage for a restaurant worker in the U.S. is $11.65 per hour.
· Servers are overwhelmingly women
· Latinx workers are the most represented racial/ethnic group in the restaurant industry
· Over 1/5 of restaurant workers are immigrants
· More than half of the mothers in the restaurant industry are single mothers
· Restaurant workers are more than twice as likely to be in poverty than the general workforce

*ROC 2020 SORW Fact Sheets

Winners of the COVID Impact Survey

"In environments where 'no' is not a real option, or at least discouraged, workers are vulnerable to harassment or otherwise unsafe working conditions, in the hopes we'll make enough to pay our bills and live."

Ceryse Devaney
Washington, D.C.

April Bailey
Greenbrier, Arkansas

Tracey Gatmin
Beaverton, OR

Donation Form

A Message From Our President

Dr. Sekou Siby

"Each day, nearly 14 million restaurant workers nationwide wash, chop, cook, serve and deliver our food. Yet, few of us realize what the true condition of our restaurant workers is and what circumstances they face in the workplace. Although restaurant workers are clearly invaluable and indispensable to our economy and sustainability of our communities, they often earn low, if not subminimum wages, and endure many work-related hazards, substandard working conditions, long hours, instability and discrimination.

"The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted—and exacerbated—the risks, inequities and racial dynamics inherent in the U.S. restaurant industry. Restaurant workers make up roughly 60 percent of all jobs that have been lost since the coronavirus outbreak.

"In mid March 2021, the $19 trillion was signed into law to provide assistance and healthcare response to working families. However, the legislation failed to include the $15 federal minimum wage to protect low-wage workers, including restaurant workers, who were hit the hardest by business closures and restrictions.

"For undocumented workers, making up more than 10 percent of workers in the restaurant industry, they have been carved out of the unemployment and one-time cash payment benefits that every family in this country deserves. That makes these workers more vulnerable to hunger and suffering.

"The State of the Restaurant Workers marks the one and only comprehensive national report that attempts at putting together a detailed accounting of who are the restaurant workers in 50 states, their demographics, how much do they earn and what are their poverty thresholds in comparison to the national data. In a sense, the story of this report is an American story. It is for, by and about the restaurant workers across the country—the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color. ROC United, along with the larger labor movement, allies on the ground, federal and local lawmakers and members of the general public, hopes to use this report to broaden the coalition of those calling for wage reforms that ultimately lead to the passage of federal and state laws that we have long identified as a piece of the solution for all restaurant workers that we serve."

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