There’s a good article in the SF Chronicle (Bay Area Restaurants Confront a Changing Kitchen Culture) talking about how restaurant workers used to be mistreated and underpaid and how they are now somewhat less mistreated and less underpaid.
Those who have worked in restaurants before or read the book Kitchen Confidential won’t be surprised by accounts of how things used to be terrible and still are in some cases apparently (see, e.g., the article talking about the sexual harassment and wage dispute lawsuits against the otherwise well-reviewed restaurant Coqueta). But things are changing in SF.
The article starts by talking about how kitchen culture is founded on fear, and each generation of kitchen workers grows up hazing the next.
But the real reason for better working conditions is economic. As the New York Times highlighted last year, there is a growing shortage of restaurant kitchen workers because a) wages are too low, so some kitchen staff would rather work in Google’s cafeteria or Whole Foods or other industries altogether like construction, b) there is a lot more competition among more restaurants for a limited pool of talented workers, and c) ambitious chefs tend to migrate from restaurant to restaurant, seeking to expand their skills and horizons and making it that much harder for restaurants to remain fully staffed.
In addition to better working conditions, simply paying staff more does wonders for morale and turnover. Higher minimum wage laws such as those in Seattle and SF, and a national movement towards higher minimum wages may help keep turnover lower and thus production quality and service quality higher.
And not all compensation needs to be in the form of higher wages.
For those of you who want to support restaurants spearheading the charge towards better working conditions, check out the Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group that the SF Chronicle article mentions. According to the article, they introduced “company-wide medical and dental insurance, paid vacation, pretax commuter checks, field trips and classes” and “customizable monthly benefits” such as monthly gym membership or gift cards. The Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group includes the following highly-rated restaurants in SF:
Fat Angel (TripAdvisor reviews)
Stones Throw (TripAdvisor reviews)
Trestle (TripAdvisor reviews)