As the restaurant industry's busiest and most profitable day of the year (Valentine's Day) approaches, ROC has released two reports: a study challenging the idea that restaurants can succeed only by keeping labor costs low and a Diners' Guide spotlighting restaurants that aim for sustainability — not just on the plate but behind kitchen doors. (Last year, ROC-LA released a report detailing the low pay, long hours and lack of benefits that most of L.A.'s 276,000 restaurant workers endure.)

In conjunction with Cornell University, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC United) recently released “Taking the High Road – A How-to Guide for Successful Restaurant Employers.” The report highlights research from 33 restaurants in eight cities including The Gorbals and Good Girl Dinette (Los Angeles), Craft (New York) and Busboys and Poets (Washington, D.C.).

Looking beyond obvious costs such as hourly wage, the report examines hidden expenses like turnover. Studies place the cost between $4,000 and $14,000 per employee turnover. Unhappy employees generally lead to increased turnover.

The report focuses on nine restaurants that have succeeded while offering workers a living wage, benefits and paid sick leave, one of which is Good Girl Dinette.

Opened in 2009, the Highland Park diner serves contemporary Vietnamese comfort food that is local, sustainable and seasonal. Owner Diep Tran also aims for sustainability in the restaurant's working conditions, paying above-average wages, which she says have increased worker retention and improved the quality of her employees' work.

“Everyone knows that integrity is a standard here,” says Diep. “If a cook has integrity, that means they will pay attention. Your food is going to be better.”

Hot on the heels of this report, ROC has released its 2012 Diners' Guide, which features several local restaurants known for their “high road” practices. In addition to The Gorbals and Good Girl Dinette, it features Local, Homegirl Café and Chaya Restaurant Group. The report also evaluates more than 150 restaurants and national chains based on their working conditions.

ROC-LA will celebrate the debut of the 2012 Diners' Guide at a panel discussion on Jan. 31 at The Gorbals.

LA Weekly