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Bay Area Restaurants Most Segregated by Race in the United States

May 14, 2019 - 3:32 pm

OAKLAND — After working in the kitchen for several years, Joel Leon applied for a server position at a restaurant in Oakland, but the job went to a white applicant with zero experience. 

Leon found the experience demoralizing.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I can go ahead and be in the restaurant industry anymore,” said Leon.  “They told the guy ‘that’s no problem, we’ll train you…you look like a good candidate.’ That really hurt me, emotionally.”

It’s an all-too-common occurrence in the region, according to a new study. 

The report finds that the Bay Area has the highest rates of occupational segregation in terms of race in the restaurant industry in the United States. 

Saru Jayaramen, director of Food Labor Research at UC Berkeley, said, while people of color make up the majority of those working in restaurants, they don’t make up the majority of livable-wage jobs in the industry.

“Sometimes, a server or bartender at a fine dining  (establishment) in San Francisco or Oakland can earn six figures. Those jobs are held almost exclusively by white men,” said Jayaramen.

However, the city of Oakland is working to move more workers from the so-called “back of the house” to the front.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf wants to offer restaurants tax breaks and other incentives to diversify their hiring, and help to promote those restaurants. 

Schaaf said the goal of the initiatives is “to really educate residents about what it means for them to support industries that have taken on these good practices so that you put your money where your values are.”

Ciity Council Member Nikki Fortunado Bas echoed similar sentiments about the tax breaks and efforts to de-segregate the city’s restaurant industry.

“The next step in this growing restaurant industry is to make sure there is equity and that there are more people of color that have opportunities at the so-called “front of the house” in our restaurants,” said Bas.

The group Restaurant Opportunity Centers United is releasing a free restaurant guide app that lists local restaurants working toward racial equity.