National Diner’s Guide on Restaurant
Socially Conscious Dining
By Jonathan Gramling
For the past decade or so, a local movement has been growing for people to eat locally
or at least purchase fair trade coffee and other foods that can’t be grown locally.
Whether it is the public schools’ food service, the Willy Street Coop or the proliferation
of farmers markets, there is a concern that food is grown healthily and that farmers
receive a fair wage for the fruits of their labor.
Slow Foods UW, an affiliate of National Slow Food USA, has been focused on these
issues and have even opened up a café, The Crossing, where people can eat “slow
foods.” But for Jen Bloesch, co-director of Slow Foods UW, it isn’t enough.
“I think there are a lot of people who are forgotten along the way, not farmers who start
the process or the eaters who end the process, but all of those people in between who
are facing labor rights issues: underemployment, under pay and poor working conditions,” Bloesch said. “To be completely honest, we
care about that a lot because if the process isn’t fair for all of us, it isn’t a fair process. We want to make sure the food is good, but we
also want to make sure that people can engage with it in a way that is healthy for them.”
Bloesch was one of several activists and food service workers who spoke at a press conference on May 2 to highlight the publication
of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) which has released a national diners’ guide that highlights those restaurants that pay
living wages and have good working conditions for their employees. While many restaurants may appear to be cool and wholesome,
the appearance can sometimes be deceiving.
“I work in a Mexican restaurant,” said Jorge Cruz, a restaurant worker. “I was fired when I organized some of my friends to say
something when something happened in the restaurant where we worked. They fired me and I went to the Workers’ Rights Center and
they helped me to get my job back and some money. I worked in another Mexican restaurant and they didn’t want to pay me for my extra
hours. They had a problem with tips also where they put some tips on the credit cards and they didn’t give me that money because it
takes extra money to do that. I asked him why they didn’t give me the tips and they fired me. I think it is important, the activity that we
are organizing here, so we know what is happening in back of the restaurants where everyone eats.”
“I feel this project is important because it will also help people realize how the workers are treated in the back when they are working,”
said José Ramirez, another restaurant worker. “I witnessed discrimination on wages. I feel this project will be important to use as a
bargaining tool for others who aren’t getting paid their wages properly.”
Martha Stahl describes herself as one of Madison’s oldest waiters. She has seen it all during her decades-long career in the food
“There are a lot of restaurants that are very popular in Madison that people are going to be sad to find out that they do not treat their
employees well,” Stahl said. “They don’t give their tipped employees all their tips. They fire people when they try to unionize. On the
other hand, we have restaurants that give employees health insurance who work 20 hours per week. So I just think that it is a
wonderful, wonderful project for us to find out who are these people who treat their employees well and also for restaurant workers,
where you might want to apply for a job. There is a young lady who came into the place where I was working a few months ago crying to
talk to her boyfriend who is a cook because she started at a restaurant on Willy Street and they told her that she would be training for
two months and not be paid. We were all like, ‘No, no.’ She said that she needed a job. And I told her that it wasn’t a job if you don’t get
paid. We encouraged her not to put up with that. And she went and found a job at a better place.”
The National ROC Diners Guide is a way to life the standards of the restaurant industry so that informed diners can choose where to dine
and restaurant workers can look for employment at restaurants that treat their workers right.
“Last December, ROC released the National Diners’ Guide 2012,” said Aly Miller, a volunteer with ROC. “The guide is designed to help
consumers decide where to eat. But I found it helpful as an employee of restaurants to look through the guide and look at places where I
would want to work. The guide compiles data and the workers compile the data on workers’ access to benefits, paid sick days and
living wages at 200 of the nation’s most popular restaurants and a few of the nation’s most responsible local establishments. I think
there is a lot of room in Madison for finding out what those local establishments are in our area who are doing a really good job. The
goal is not to create divisions in the industry, but to raise the standards in workplace justice across the industry.”
The Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice will be a partner on the project, surveying and meeting with employers to obtain input from
“We are pleased to endorse and be a part of the Just Dining Project and producing a guide to inform diners about the labor practices of
the restaurants in Downtown Madison, said Becky Schigiel, organizer with the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice. “There are many
excellent restaurants in Downtown Madison at which we can enjoy excellent food. But knowing that the workers in those restaurants in
which we choose to eat are treated justly will enhance our enjoyment of this food. I look forward to the completion of this project and
expect to make use of the guide to just dine regularly.”
This coalition hopes to release its local guide later this year. They will be focused this summer on gathering data for the guide.
“For this trial project, we are focusing on restaurants on the Isthmus, from Park Street in the west to the Yahara River in the east and to
Regent Street on the south side,” Healy said. “As part of the outreach and surveying of employers, we’ll have the opportunity to
distribute information about basic workplace rights. Obviously in order to accomplish these tasks, it will require a lot of effort. We’re
calling on restaurant workers, restaurant employers and supportive community members to volunteer to assist in this project so that
together, we can give credit where credit is due and encourage those businesses that do not meet community standards to work
toward improving their working conditions.”
“Restaurant workers represent one out of every 12 workers in the private industry,” Miller said. “So despite occupying the largest
sector of private industry, restaurant workers don’t have enough spaces or opportunities to talk about their workplace problems. For
many, there aren’t any actions for righting them.”
A local dining guide may help Madisonians dine in a socially-responsible way and help workers have a voice.
To obtain more information about the local dining guide or to volunteer, call the Workers’ Rights Center at 608-255-0376 or e-mail them at
|Jen Bloesch, co-director of Slow Foods UW,
introduces the panel and restaurant guide.