By Ernesto Aguilar
August 7, 2010
Restaurants serve millions of plates of food each year. Even as food service technology gets more modern and state-of-the-art, many traditions of the food service industry have held sway over the world of wait staff and cooks for years, virtually unchanged. Maybe, as the old adage goes, exposing ancient and troubled eatery practices with the light of transparency can force change. Though Abolish Restaurants: A Worker’s Critique of the Food Service Industry (PM Press, 2010) argues for an end to eating establishments, wide reading of this book could inspire something altogether different: reforms in how things are done.
In this persuasive chapbook, author Prole.Info utilize words and illustrations to tell two intriguing parallel stories: first, what the food service industry entails for those who work in the restaurants themselves, and then, the political and social implications of eating establishments on local economies and working people.Some of Abolish Restaurants reads a bit like a Situationist coloring book, with a fair chunk of the text relating how miserable food service workers are in their jobs, how aggravating it is to deal with rude customers, or to be nice to people one does not like, and how fundamentally dispiriting restaurant employment can be. Although one can be sure food service can be a hard, challenging job, work unhappiness is a dominant theme that can eclipse and detract from other points. Can’t such be said of many customer-service-oriented jobs? Bundle the daily grind with corruption at varying levels of the business model and it is no surprise why the author so openly criticizes restaurants, even if the real beef has to do with an internal culture that accepts indignity as inevitable and an external culture presumed to not care about what workers must endure.
What makes this short read so interesting, however, are explanations for the uninitiated about how restaurants operate and the behind-the-scenes issues that the average customer probably takes for granted. Practices like tipping out are old hat for workers, but it is safe to say most patrons have no idea what it means. If you are not familiar with how restaurants operate on a daily basis, this book will be illuminating.
A subject needing exploration is how the spending environment is shifting. Surely cost comes on the radar of most, but the terrain of the business and the corporate aesthetic are also growing in importance. In this age of conscientious consumerism, it is wholly tenable that Abolish Restaurants will make you think of how you spend your eating-out dollars. After all, in an age where buyers will spend more on meat from grass-fed cows, milk without hormones, locally made crafts and organic fruits and vegetables, labor practices are very much on the table for plenty of buyers. Disparities between kitchen and wait staff, for instance, are invisible to those looking at menus, but chances are such business practices may actually be of interest. Will this be the next great battlefield for those who have largely claimed victory in the mainstreaming of green products? Not all are shills boosting multinational businesses. A few behind the movement pressing consumers to spend their money ethically believe such spending can force businesses to treat employees better. And in this time where the need for jobs is converging with the expectation of workplace justice, is it really that far-fetched to wonder if works like Abolish Restaurants can help the public clarify these matters for themselves? One can only hope so.