Occasionally at the Interfaith Worker Justice office, we’re blessed with visits from board members, allies and workers. We gather together for roundtable discussions about our work, renewing our commitments to the struggle for worker justice.
Our staff and interns gather with guests over coffee and treats, and we talk about our work and where it intersects and how we can share in struggles and successes and the opportunities to further the movement together.
Today, we were blessed to sit down with Saru Jayaraman, executive director of Restaurant Opportunity Centers United and author of Behind the Kitchen Door. In preparation for our conversation with Saru, we all read Behind the Kitchen Door, which I’d say is a must read for anyone who eats out. Saru’s comprehensive breakdown of the struggles of restaurant workers is both eye-opening and has practical implications for you, the diner.
One important highlight from the book is the way Saru vividly describes the restaurant workers she’s profiling. These vivid descriptions and lengthy backgrounds bring an extra layer of humanism to their struggles. It’s a stark contrast to how diners often don't see wait staff and restaurant workers (something she mentions in the beginning of the book). We remember the special occasion, the food and the atmosphere, but not the waiter taking orders, food runner bringing out the dessert or the busser clearing our table.
Behind the Kitchen Door identifies several injustices in the restaurant industry: little access to sick time, the tipped minimum wage, race and gender discrimination—all issues that IWJ supports advocating to change. Saru also identifies ways every advocate for worker justice can dine ethically and support policy work to improve the industry as a whole. Behind the Kitchen Door connects the diners to how these injustices affect their interests (if a worker has no access to paid sick time, we may be eating contaminated food; if an experience food runner is overlooked for a promotion because of race, we might not get the best waiter or waitress). Diners can help change the norm in the industry. YOU can help change the norm in the industry!