Is your restaurant ethical?

Instructor Hugo Aleman instructs students in how to set a table for fine dining.

About 300,000 people work in the restaurant industry in the greater Los Angeles area. But some question how well this workforce of cooks, waiters, dishwashers and bartenders are treated because of low pay, charges of wage theft, discrimination,  and the near absence of health insurance. (This  guide can help you determine if you’re eating at ethical restaurants).

An organization called the Restaurant Opportunities Center is trying to improve the lives of L.A.’s restaurant workers, from fighting for better pay and health care to offering fine dining “server classes” to workers seeking the best jobs in the business. I visited one of these classes and learned that it’s always two tablecloths, not one, in high-end restaurants and you never use a white cloth napkin when guests are wearing dark clothing because it draws too much attention.

On today’s Which Way, LA? we also heard from a representative from the California Restaurant Association who defended the labor practices of most restaurants, saying low paying restaurant positions were important stepping stones to better jobs.

I spoke to two people who in their own ways are trying to improve the lives of restaurant workers, Mariana Huerta of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles and Diep Tran, owner of Good Girl Dinette.

Mariana Huerta of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles, an organization that fights for better pay and working conditions of Southern California restaurant workers.

In fine dining restaurants we’ve seen there is more blatant discrimination.

Diep Tran, owner of Good Girl Dinette in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood who is trying to both treat her employees well and make a profit.

 If you’re a crappy employer, you’re going to know it because your staff just won’t show up for you.