Why a Living Wage?

A living wage is the minimum required to afford the most basic needs such as housing, food, utilities and transportation without relying on public or private assistance.

The living wage differs based on regional variations in costs such as housing. The MIT Living Wage Calculator is one tool used to determine how local costs affect the hourly wage needed to cover basic needs for an employee.

A growing number of nonprofits and community groups have developed voluntary certification programs recognizing businesses and local municipalities who have committed to pay their employees a living wage.

The Significance of Living Wages for the Restaurant Industry

Organizational scholars increasingly note the spread of a low-wage, precarious model of employment characterized by a lack of job security and poor working conditions. This low wage, high profit model of employment has come to define food service work in the U.S.

The restaurant industry contains many ironies related to how certain types of work are either celebrated or disdained. Popular foodie culture lauds the skills and expertise of breakout celebrity chefs, food network stars, and local restaurateurs. However, the typical restaurant worker in the United States is more likely to be engaged in low wage work associated with less skill and social value.

Restaurants typically employ at-will and short term hiring and scheduling practices that decrease workers’ security and predictability. Restaurant workers must also navigate the expectations and surveillance practices of customers who pay part of their wages through tips. And because food itself exists as an organizer of social hierarchy, stigmas associated with “good” versus “bad” food combine to shape negative perceptions of the value of the labor performed by restaurant workers across lines of gender, race, and class.

My current research shows how business owners are making living wages work in the restaurant industry. It focuses on efforts by community leaders and independent restaurant owners to increase wages and improve working conditions for restaurant workers.