Executive For Olive Garden And Red Lobster Defends The Wage He Pays Employees

Olive Garden RestaurantWikiMedia CommonsThe Darden Restaurant, Olive Garden.

An opinion piece asserting that waiters should be paid more prompted a major restaurant executive to defend the wage he offers employees.

Scott Klinger, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C., wrote an editorial outlining minimum wage laws in the restaurant industry. He criticised the stagnant wage of servers in contrast to the profits of large restaurant companies. Klinger wrote:

“There’s momentum in Congress to increase the minimum wage to $US10.10 an hour and peg the tipped minimum wage at 70 per cent of this level, or $US7.07 an hour. The National Restaurant Association is again marshaling its tremendous political clout to block this increase for its employees.

Leading the opposition is Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service restaurant chain and the owner of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, among others.”

Samir Gupte, a senior vice president of culture for Darden Restaurants, responded with this letter below. He claims Klinger’s opinion letter is full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations of those in the industry.

A recently published opinion piece (“Waiters aren’t being well served,” Sept. 13, 2013) does not paint the true picture of the restaurant industry or my company, Darden Restaurants. The accessibility of the American Dream may be in question in our country as a whole, but it is alive and well in the restaurant industry and is a passion and mission for us here at Darden.

We understand that being a large, high-profile organisation makes us an easy target for mistruths and narrow storytelling, especially with continuing levels of unemployment and stagnant hiring trends in other sectors of the American economy. However, any accusations that we do not pay employees fairly are completely false. We take these allegations seriously and view these rumours as being detrimental to the employees who we are working so hard to help achieve their personal and professional dreams.

For starters, no one makes $US2.13 an hour. It is a popular exaggeration and terribly misleading.

Across all eight of our restaurant concepts, the average income for hourly employees ranges from $US13 to $US21 per hour. On top of that, many of our employees, including servers, bartenders and certain culinary positions, make even more. The hourly income of our bussers, which is often an entry-level job, is more than $US11 an hour. That is well above the federal minimum wage of $US7.25.

To take this a step further, opportunities with our company extend far beyond hourly jobs. We have more than 8,000 leadership positions in our restaurants, and we pride ourselves on rewarding individuals from within.

More than 50 per cent of our restaurant managers are promoted from hourly ranks and nearly 100 per cent of our General Managers/Managing Partners are internal promotions. Darden provides our employees a well-trodden path from an entry-level hourly position, with or without a college degree, to leadership roles.

We know we need to attract and retain the best workforce possible for long-term success. All our recent employee surveys — conducted through a third party — show that our overall employee engagement score significantly outpaces our industry. I am also proud that we have been named to the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list three years in a row.

Our employees’ reaction to their experiences at Darden is also evident in the fact that we boast one of the lowest annual turnover rates in the industry, with double-digit differences comparatively.

We understand we are not perfect — and we are always looking to get better. All we ask is that our critics make an effort to learn and understand the entire story instead of simply bending numbers and using half-truths.

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