"American dining is at a fork in the road," says Saru Jayaramen, author of the new book Forked. Restaurants, in her analysis, either offer decent working conditions or they don't. And she's not afraid to name names. In-N-Out Burger, for example, gets a thumbs-up for offering competitive wages, paid sick days and upward mobility. Most fast-food chains, however, get a thumbs-down. The list includes Arby's, Burger King, Domino's, Dunkin' Donuts—you get the idea.
Jayaraman, the founding director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley, has championed workers' right for many years. In this, her second book—after Behind the Kitchen Door—she includes 14 case studies, plus rankings of eateries ranging from fast-food joints to dine-dining establishments. Danny Meyer—the man behind Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and others—reportedly came to Jayaraman before he ended tipping at some of his restaurants. The purpose of the book, however, is not to start a vicious boycott or pat the good guys on the back; it is to inform diners about their choices. And Jayaraman believes that elevated standards will ultimately benefit restaurant owners by creating sustainable improvements in employee loyalty, customer service and profits. Her fundamental message is that when workers do better, employers do better too.
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A "diner's guide" at the book's website lets curious restaurant-goers sift through the lists to see who makes the cut and who doesn't. You can choose to view two types of results: 150 restaurants that "meet the high road criteria" (known leaders within the sustainable and fair food movement in their communities) and those that are "top-grossing" (based on total sales by the National Restaurant News). In all cases, you can further sort by name or by proximity. For the record: "Decent" wages start at a minimum of $10 for tipped and non-tipped staff, while some people in the United States are still making only $2.13 per hour. Fork that.