The National Restaurant Association released a landmark diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) report measuring the awareness and perceived effectiveness of DEI practices among employers and employees in the restaurant industry. The research, conducted in collaboration between the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), and Cornell University Nolan School of Hotel Administration, found an association between the impact of DEI strategies and foodservice workers' job satisfaction. The study also highlighted differences between a company's perceptions about its DEI effectiveness and its employees' experiences. Ultimately, the report reinforced the idea of effective DEI policies in driving employee engagement and retention within the restaurant industry.

Key Findings of the Report

Employer reporting of employee demographics overestimates the number of historically marginalized communities in the restaurant industry, especially at the mid- and upper levels of management, compared with how employees self-report.

When asked about the current profile of diversity in the foodservice industry, individuals typically reported differently than the enterprise. This suggests businesses may perceive an environment of diversity that is different from what is experienced by employees. If left unchecked, this has the potential to minimize the experience of historically marginalized communities; limit an organization's ability to recognize the need for a more diverse workforce and change recruiting policies accordingly; and create an environment for turnover. 

Findings include:

  • Enterprise-level reporting of gender demographics is different from individual employee reporting. Enterprises underreport the percentage of female employees and overreport the representation of nonbinary/nonconforming employees compared with how employees self-report (55% of individuals identify as female, enterprises report 35%; 1% of individuals identify as non-binary/non-conforming, enterprises report 18%).
  • A greater percentage of individual employees self-identify as Hispanic, Black/African American, and other races than enterprises report. 
  • Enterprises reported a higher representation of people with disabilities than individuals indicated; 16% of individual employees self-reported having a disability, while enterprises report 34%.

Employee and employer perceptions of current DEI initiatives differed on the effectiveness and awareness of the policies.

Enterprises generally believe they have created work environments that support DEI, yet awareness of those policies is often weak among current employees, and even more so among former employees. This can lead employees to believe that DEI is not a strategic priority, which can ultimately lead to a lack of job satisfaction and higher turnover. 

Findings include:

  • 92% of enterprises report having dedicated DEI initiatives, however there is limited awareness of those policies among employees. For example, 78% of enterprises reported having employee diversity training or awareness events, while only 48% of current employees and 34% former employees reported receiving this training.
  • 73% of enterprises believe that a diverse workforce improves a company's innovation, yet 54% of enterprises believe that money spent on diversity programs is not having a noticeable impact.
  • 58% of enterprises believe that they provide adequate DEI training.
  • 30% of current employees and 14% of former employees believe the diversity programs in place at their restaurants have a positive impact on the workplace.

When restaurant employees leave the industry, many do not return. Respect and a culture of belonging are associated with job satisfaction and intent to stay in the industry.

In general, the research suggests that current employees are satisfied with their work and overall have positive views about working in the restaurant and foodservice industry. The report indicates a correlation between employee sentiment about working in the industry and supervisor support. Addressing work challenges, investing in training and team member development, and creating authentic and sustainable employment opportunities through a culture of belonging and inclusion can help to address these gaps.

Findings include:

  • 72% of current employees expect to be employed by their current restaurant/organization in one year.
  • 77% of former restaurant industry employees are not currently looking for employment in the industry.
  • 16% of former restaurant employees expect to return to work in the industry.

To support the development of effective DEI programs across the industry, MFHA created ELEVATE – A Menu for Change. The framework provides restaurant operators with proactive business strategies and plans for building a more diverse, inclusive and engaged workforce.

"This research highlights the opportunity for companies to elevate their DEI game," says Gerry Fernandez, president and founder of the MFHA. "We have this incredible opportunity to listen, learn, and act to improve our DEI practices. Committing to and investing in these changes can increase retention of current restaurant industry employees and enhance the overall perception of working in the restaurant industry. Our mission is to open doors of opportunity for people from all backgrounds and we are eager to help do whatever it takes to ensure our industry is the gold standard for diversity, equity, and inclusion." Find more information about the DEI Report on the Restaurant Industry 2022 and ELEVATE – A Menu for Change framework here.

The research survey was conducted in August and September 2021 in two tracks: An online survey of 200 enterprise representatives from a population representative of the U.S. restaurant and foodservice industry; and an online survey of current and former employees, and individuals who have never worked in the industry. The combined 5,180 individual respondents were representative of the U.S. restaurant and foodservice industry workforce.