Side Note

A gig economy for restaurant employees is a terrible idea

The startup app Pared just raised $10 million to turn restaurant work into gig work. According to TechCrunch, a group of venture capitalists have bought into the company’s mission of connecting restaurants with pre-vetted workers who can show up under tight timeframes, combining the extant horrors of the gig economy with the instability of the restaurant economy.

In 2014, the Economic Policy Institute found that the median wage for restaurant workers, including tips, sits at roughly $10 per hour — well below the $18 hourly average across other industries. 16.7 percent of restaurant workers earn below the poverty line, compared with 6.3 percent of other workers. And when it comes to benefits, restaurant workers are often forced to fend for themselves: only 14.4 had access to employer health insurance.

A plunge into the gig economy would only compound these problems. A 2015 Government Accountability Office report concluded that “contingent workers” — meaning temp workers, subcontractors, and freelancers — earned 10.6 percent less than regularly employed workers in their same fields, and they were two-thirds less likely to access benefits like retirement plans through their job. Competitors Jobletics and Jitjatjo are similarly promising that bringing the structure of Uber to restaurants will streamline the hiring and scheduling process.

For a restaurant industry already undergoing a reckoning for the persistent sexual harassment its workers endure, the Uberization of labor may only make things worse. As many as 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men who work in the restaurant report experiencing sexual harassment, and if more restaurant workers take on gig jobs, they’ll have even less recourse than before. Last year, The Guardian interviewed Melissa, a driver for DoorDash who was repeatedly sexually harassed by customers but whose complaints were ignored. “DoorDash is like, ‘You’re an independent contractor. You’re in business for yourself. You know the risks. You’re on your own,’” she told the paper.