dining

New dining guide rates Madison restaurants on how they treat workers

2012-12-05T05:45:00Z 2013-01-09T11:28:01Z New dining guide rates Madison restaurants on how they treat workersDOUG ERICKSON | State Journal | derickson@madison.com | 608-252-6149 madison.com

Two Madison labor groups released a new kind of dining guide Tuesday that rates 139 central Madison restaurants on how they treat workers.

The guide awards up to seven stars based on factors such as starting wages, health insurance coverage and sick pay. Food quality doesn't play a role.

The big winners: Ian's Pizza, Ancora Coffee, the Dayton Street Grille, the Plaza Tavern, all of the Food Fight restaurants and the numerous public dining establishments operated by UW-Madison.

"At the end of the day, if you don't have great people and treat them well, it's hard to grow or be successful," said Greg Frank, a Food Fight managing partner who said he was pleased with the company's rating.

The guide is an effort to spotlight the good guys more than to shame those who fall short, said Patrick Hickey, director of the Workers' Rights Center, which produced the guide with the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South-Central Wisconsin.

"We're really holding up those employers that go above and beyond," Hickey said. "Hopefully by highlighting them, the other restaurants will see something they can aspire to."

Ten of the 139 restaurants received no stars, and 28 just one star.

"It doesn't mean they're bad employers," Hickey said. "It means they haven't yet figured out a way to structure the business to provide good wages and benefits."

Fifty restaurants in addition to the 139 rated ones got inconclusive grades — denoted by question marks — because the guide's authors could not confirm certain policies. About 30 percent of the total 189 restaurants cooperated with the researchers, Hickey said.

Owners surveyed

The information came from multiple sources, including employee handbooks, Hickey said. Restaurant owners were surveyed and 308 employees representing all 139 rated restaurants were interviewed either in-person or online. All restaurants were shown the results and were able to correct errors, Hickey said.

Pete Hanson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, called the guide "well-intended" but questioned whether the methodology was sound. He took strong issue with the wording of much of the guide's introduction, which calls the quality of restaurant jobs "often distressingly poor" and claims racial and gender discrimination is widespread in the industry.

The guide "is filled with erroneous information and plays on stereotypes about the restaurant industry" that are not true, Hanson said.

Rabbi Renee Bauer, director of the interfaith coalition, said the group stuck to objective measures, such as whether full-time employees are eligible for health insurance and whether employers provide an accurate, written way to record work hours.

"Even then, we know people will poke holes through it," she said. Workplace climate, for instance, was not a factor the group could measure, although it's extremely important, she said.

Triggers changes

In at least a couple of cases, the dining guide spurred restaurants to improve wages and benefits. The Weary Traveler Freehouse decided to up its contribution to employee health insurance coverage from 50 percent to 75 percent of costs.

"It came as a very pleasant surprise to everyone," said executive chef Joey Dunscombe, whose family is insured through the Weary Traveler.

The Food Fight restaurant group, based in Madison and employing almost 1,000 workers, realized while gathering information for the guide that nine of its non-tipped employees made less than $8.75 an hour, said Frank, the managing partner. That's the minimum hourly wage a restaurant must offer to non-tipped workers to get a star in that category,

The restaurant group, which operates such popular restaurants as Eldorado Grille and The Coopers Tavern, upped those salaries, Frank said.

Union factor

In an example of the sometimes tricky politics of the food industry, even though Food Fight fared well in the wages and benefits survey, it was a target of union criticism two years ago when the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus chose it to run two restaurants in the building.

Food Fight workers are not unionized. Union workers picketed the building's grand opening.

Bauer said unionization did not factor into a restaurant's rating, even though her group and the Workers' Rights Center support unions. She noted that all of the unionized restaurants, including the Dayton Street Grille at the Concourse Hotel, finished near the top.

While no restaurant received all seven stars, the unionized restaurants run by UW-Madison, such as the Rathskeller and Ginger Root, earned the most stars they were eligible for: six. Because the restaurants don't have tipped employees, that wage category did not apply.

Ian's Pizza was the only other restaurant to earn six stars.

"That's awesome, especially next to all those other great companies," said Adam May, Ian's marketing director. "Most of the core values Ian's really sticks to come from our employees. We really try to put them first."

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(21) Comments

  1. Think Before You Speak
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    Think Before You Speak - December 05, 2012 8:11 pm
    Be thankful you have a job instead of complaining about it. Suck it up and do it.
  2. Think Before You Speak
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    Think Before You Speak - December 05, 2012 8:10 pm
    This guide is useless and has no common sense. Especially if she likes putting MORE people out of work. Never mess with the boss. NO ONE will hire you after that. And people shouldn't have to pay more than minimum wage for their employees if they don't want to and can't afford it. Boy this guide is a moron with no common sense to what her actions will cause. So where are you gonna put all of these unemployed people? You must have job openings for ALL of them perhaps?
  3. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 05, 2012 4:26 pm
    Think back, Lynne. Have you ever ONCE said something nice about ANYBODY on this website?
  4. FreddieB
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    FreddieB - December 05, 2012 3:11 pm
    Also, I'd like to see how the UW restaurants compare to private restaurants regarding turning a profit. Do they have the same cost structure? Rent, insurance, supply cost, etc? Or are there subsidies involved? Seems to me the UW restaurants get some advantages that the private restaurants don't get. Example: is property tax calculated into their rent? Or is the rent reduced because the UW is exempt from local taxes?

    I could be way off base here, but it seems that the playing field is not the same with UW versus private restaurants, hence their ability to give better benefits.
  5. FreddieB
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    FreddieB - December 05, 2012 3:06 pm
    Sorry, I don't think a teenager just entering the workforce should get much more than 7.25/hour--the current minimum wage. And I don't think that a restaurant that hires & trains teenagers should be looked upon as bad simply because they don't pay 8.75/hour.

    Also while it is easy to criticize a business for not offering health care, finding AFFORDABLE care is difficult, especially for smaller employers.
  6. gettin by
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    gettin by - December 05, 2012 11:48 am
    food fight is not a good company to work for... I worked for them, they do NOT start non tipped employees at over 8.75, and they don't offer paid sick days as stated in the survey. Also as a part of management staff, we were instructed by a managing partner to treat the staff like b*tc#s in order to get them to perform most efficiently. This absolutely shocked me to hear it put out there like that. They also put credit card tips on your server's paycheck instead of daily, and use these credit card tips a server received to tip out the bar staff, host staff, and bussers, so if you receive no tip from a customer you are still being charged tip outs based on sales, not on tips. Food fight also pushes out staff that make ''too'' much money, and hire younger, less experienced staff to take their place.
  7. MultiVortex
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    MultiVortex - December 05, 2012 11:06 am
    No, I don't own that place, so don't hold it against them. I am just an enthusiastic customer. I work at UW-Madison.

    Thanks for calling me an ego jerk-off.
  8. MultiVortex
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    MultiVortex - December 05, 2012 11:05 am
    Did you understand my comment? I caveated "My comment is a major tangent to the main poitn of this dining guide". Yes, I understand the guide and article.
  9. DarkStar
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    DarkStar - December 05, 2012 10:26 am
    My wife and I went to DLUX this weekend, a newer Foodfight offering. The service and food were both impeccable! Always been happy with any of the Foodfight places, never had a bad meal and certainly never had any bad service. Foodanddrink must have some kind of disgruntled agenda...I suppose he(she?) could do better?!
  10. jimri
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    jimri - December 05, 2012 10:23 am
    Too bad all these people working at these establishments are forbidden to quit and go work somewhere else if they feel the wages, benefits and conditions are below what they want.....Oh, wait....What, this is actually a free world? You mean, it's really an agreement made by free-thinking people as to where one chooses to work? Wow, what a novel concept. Who knew.
  11. AngryDeuce
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    AngryDeuce - December 05, 2012 8:16 am
    Isn't it funny how threatening some people find something like this? A guide that rates restaurants based on the way they treat their staff...oh noes! Why, if people know which businesses treat their employees like an asset, instead of a liability, then they may actually be able to make an informed decision on where to spend their money! SOSHULISM!!!

    This is the core of the free market, folks. A perfect market requires perfect information; i.e., all actors in the market have to have access to the exact same information so that they can make an informed decision with the same access to the facts. I, for one, love this idea...it allows me to make an informed decision and support a business that is going to give back to my community and have a positive impact. I'll never understand why so many people are threatened by everyone having full access to the facts. If one of the restaurants in this guide actually pays better then reported, I'm sure that the writers will be more than happy to update the guide...and if this spurs some of the restaurants in this guide to treat their workers a little better, so much the better.

    Some of you guys probably see this as extortion, and that's ridiculous. Since when is it extortion for people to put information out there that anyone that bothered to speak to the employees of these restaurants would be able to find out? Is this information secret? Do people not have a right to know whether or not the employees at a given establishment are paid and treated well? In what possible way would they not?
  12. foodanddrink
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    foodanddrink - December 05, 2012 3:33 am
    This article and movement is a complete joke. Food Fight restaurants are some of the most rotten, awful places in town. Ridiculous. Ian's is a joke too..
  13. happydays
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    happydays - December 04, 2012 10:26 pm
    Guess I will get this guide and make sure to eat at those places that don't treat their staff well - at least I can give tips to people who really need them And I would hate to see all those people lose their jobs when they are boycotted and go out of business. This could backfire and put a lot of people out of jobs
  14. Lynne4300
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    Lynne4300 - December 04, 2012 8:41 pm
    Ian's pizza............food for moochers.
  15. River
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    River - December 04, 2012 8:35 pm
    I agree. What's with this attitude that you MUST tip in Madison? If the service is bad, you aren't obligated to pay extra.
  16. knittingnancy
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    knittingnancy - December 04, 2012 8:20 pm
    Novel idea. Wish it would spread around the state. At least it makes the owners think about the workers. I generally like to tip well because I think restaurant work is a really tough job even though I have never done it myself. Most waitstaff are friendly and knowledgeable about the foods offered.
  17. ginrummy
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    ginrummy - December 04, 2012 6:27 pm
    I agree with you on tipping banana, but people need to remember that there are several factors involved in your service. Some are outside your servers control and you should take that into consideration when tipping.
  18. bananahammock
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    bananahammock - December 04, 2012 6:07 pm
    3 things.

    1. Multivortex: do you own that place? Sure sounds like it. Business must need a kick in the shorts with and ego j-off like that.

    2. Ginrummy: I'm happy to tip 25-30% if the service is good. I will NEVER tip because I'm "supposed" to. It's a tip, EARN it!

    3. This thing is a joke right? Was this brought to us by the same people who organized boycotts of small business' that wouldn't sign their petition or hang a sign in their window?
  19. ginrummy
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    ginrummy - December 04, 2012 5:36 pm
    Their guide is kind of humorous. It starts off with an angry fist holding a fork. Then they make up their own minimum wages and decide who should qualify for certain benefits. If they think this survey will affect peoples dining decisions they wasted their money. However, if it makes them feel good then it may be worth it. You can't put a price on feeling good.

    On a sidenote, when dining out be sure to tip your server at least 18%. Don't be a d-bag!
  20. MJS
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    MJS - December 04, 2012 4:54 pm
    MultiVortex, really? Did you understand the article or the guide?
    This article is about a guide which ranks the restaurants on how they treat their workers, not the quality of their food.
  21. MultiVortex
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    MultiVortex - December 04, 2012 3:36 pm
    My comment is a major tangent to the main point of this dining guide, but how in the world is Nostrano rated "Casual Dining" when it ranks as one of the top 2 (right up there with L'Etoile) for quality food experience? Ok, its ambiance is casual relative to other more traditional fine dining establishments, but the food quality ranks among the top in the city and state. At any rate, putting in the same category as Tutto Pasta or State Street Brats is an unintentional major insult one of our most important food establishments that I hope is here for a very long time.
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