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Three— The Kitchen As Place and Space

图书名称:Kitchens:The Culture of Restaurant Work
图书作者:Gary Alan Fine    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:1996年

It is rush hour in the kitchen. Imagine a large room, and in it twenty or so cooks all busily at work, hastily coming and going in this gulf of heat. . . . to heighten our sufferings, all doors and windows are closed for about half-an-hour to prevent the food from getting cold. This is the way we spend the best years of our lives. But when duty commands one must obey even when physical strength fails. Our greatest enemy is coal.

In the previous chapters I analyzed the doing of food preparation; here I focus on the organizational work that surrounds culinary activity. In all occupations work is surrounded by activities that belong to the workplace but are not of the work task itself. An occupational scene comprises more than its essential activity; it also includes that which surrounds this activity. The label of an activity is only part of what those in that job category are supposed to accomplish. When coupled with an organizational division of labor, with workers with other titles, relations among activities can become complex. The arc of work requires an array of secondary projects and personnel to support occupational accomplishment. Of course, what is primary for one occupation (e.g., cooking) is a secondary concern for another (e.g., serving). First, I ask how the equipment in the kitchen affects what cooks do, how cooks deal with occupational danger, and how the physical environment of the kitchen affects their behavior and attitudes. I then explore the relationships among the occupations that share the kitchen: chefs, cooks, waiters, waitresses, busboys, dishwashers, and potmen. How are the division of labor and differences in status negotiated in light of conflicting work projects? These practices are part of the structural arrangements that constitute an organization (Blau 1984, p. 11).

Environment and Equipment


Every activity is set within a physical space that constrains, channels, and encourages it (Fine 1991). The shape, size, ambiance, and equipment of a workplace affect which products will be manufactured, and how that production will be organized. Factories are built or renovated to provide for the spatial needs of a certain type of production, as are classrooms and operating theaters.

Restaurant kitchens are known for being small, nasty, cramped places in which a wrong move spells disaster. Because of the tight spaces, cooks need considerable discipline: "You move in one direction and time your moves to avoid physical conflict with those who work around and beside you. You anticipate such moves reflexively and a timing, co-ordination, and precision are achieved equal to that of a fine Swiss watch movement. If you are casual in your motions as a chef or cook or maître d'hotel or waiter, you're going to wind up with an awful lot of soup on the floor" (Claiborne 1982, p. 95). Close quarters provoke interpersonal tensions, just as the luxury of space permits easy impression management. Zones of comfort between co-workers are sacrificed in cramped spaces.

The kitchens that I observed differed considerably in size and shape. The kitchens of the Owl's Nest and Stan's were, like the stereotypical restaurant kitchen, small and inconvenient. The pantry area of Stan's was not visible from the stoves, cramping communication. At the Owl's Nest the tight quarters prevented servers from retreating to the kitchen, a circumstance acceptable to the cooks. Kitchen workers frequently bumped into each other, a cause of friction (Field notes, Owl's Nest). The kitchen of La Pomme de Terre was, in contrast, spatially luxurious—communication was easy, and waiters could lounge in the kitchen. The cavernous kitchen of the Blakemore Hotel was too large for efficient work, making communication difficult. Perhaps this was because the hotel was not doing as well as expected, and a larger staff might have made the space seem more reasonable. As at Stan's, cooks and pantry workers could not see each other at work, complicating cooperation.

Cooks, like other workers, accommodate themselves to spatial constraints, marking territories in which other workers should not intrude without permission unless absolutely necessary. Stoves are assigned to particular workers, and when this is ignored, as sometimes happened at the Owl's Nest, bitterness results. One's workplace becomes an extension of one's identity.

The spatial layout of the kitchen also influences the relations between cooks and servers. Servers were ordinarily not permitted into the kitchen of the Owl's Nest. Movement was difficult, and there was no standing room. Servers picked up dishes from a window between the kitchen and the dining room. At Stan's, the other crowded kitchen, servers entered the kitchen, but a large metal table divided the room. Servers stayed on the side of the table near the dining room door while cooks worked the stoves, grills, and fryers opposite. In La Pomme de Terre the kitchen was structured similarly with a long metal table dividing the cooks' working area from the area where servers picked up dishes. At the Blakemore both the stove and pantry areas had shelves on which the cooks and pantry workers placed dishes to be picked up by servers. Servers moved and congregated in a large central area.

In each restaurant the built environment separated cooks and servers. In each, additional areas were set aside for potmen and dishwashers. Space contributes to the division of labor, and, in some instances, distance precludes cooperation and increases friction. Every occupation is spatially situated, and the spatial arrangements channel the possibilities of emotional displays and limits the audience.


Victor Hugo once likened a restaurant kitchen to the devil's forge; others call kitchens "foundries." Such an extreme analogy would have been confirmed by many cooks I studied. Heat is oppressively part of kitchen life, particularly in the summer months, where, according to one chef, the ambient temperature reaches 120 degrees. The Blakemore chef remarked sarcastically: "That's what they say, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. It goes with the territory" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). One cook explained that he sometimes feels that he may pass out and always keeps a large pitcher of cold water near the stove (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). He adds: "I sweat like a stuck pig. It just drains you and your temper gets shorter" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). The heat not only is believed to have physical effects but also shapes behavior and emotion.

Along with heat come smoke and grease: a infernal trinity. Observing at Stan's I returned home reeking of grease. Grease fires regularly occur in restaurant kitchens. When food drops in ovens or on grills, the kitchen may fill with smoke, causing coughing fits. The kitchen shares with many factories a decidedly unpleasant atmosphere.


Although humans are the agents of work, given credit for outcomes, we could not act as we do without tools, furnishings, and machines—the equipment of an occupation. These inanimate objects permit the worker to transform raw ingredients into a finished, processed product. Changes in technology alter the social structure and interaction patterns of the work (Finlay 1988). A cook in a barren kitchen cannot cook; he or she is helpless. Cooking reputations depend on equipment: knives, stoves, refrigerators, tables, pots, and pans.[1]

Of all the equipment in the kitchen most important and symbolic are knives. This centrality is exemplified in an account of a Japanese chef: "Oiled and stored in wooden sheaths, the long knives are forged at a high temperature, kept razor-sharp and cost around $100 each. The knives, he says, mean life to a cook. Another person is never allowed to use them" (Winegar 1982, p. 172). Most cooks preferred to use their own knives:[2] "If people buy their own tools, then they're going to take care of them better. I enjoy having my own set of tools. . . . I know how my knife operates. It has a different balance" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). Cooks discuss the relative merit of their knives, analyzing whether stainless steel is better than carbon, whether it matters if knives are stained, and whether the balance of a knife is more important than the quality of the metal. For instance, the head chef at the Owl's Nest commented to a cook: "You want them to balance right, and they have to be good steel. They've got to feel comfortable in your hand." Cooks routinely oil and sharpen their knives. While there may be relatively little difference between types of knives, the quality of the knife and the cook's ability in using it typifies the cook and is a status marker. The only kitchen workers at the Owl's Nest who regularly used knives provided by the restaurant were pantry workers, the lowest status food preparers. Cooks were criticized for borrowing others' knives with or without permission. This emphasis on the quality of equipment reflects a hierarchy similar to that of film school (Mukerji 1978, p. 132), where "real" film makers use the best equipment, but student film makers do not. One's equipment is a mark of identity.

Although cooks have a special, personal regard for knives, other kitchen equipment, provided by management, is important as well. Cooks become frustrated when management forces them to work with poor-quality equipment, complicating their job, limiting what they can prepare, and lowering the esteem that others have of them. At each restaurant cooks complained about the equipment, notably at the Owl's Nest, an older restaurant with pretensions to high quality:

The knobs on the stove burners do not turn properly; the only way to light a burner is to toss a match at it. Bruce comments: "I wonder what it's like to work over a good stove. One you don't have to use a match for." He adds sarcastically: "Sunday, Paul and I went over to a church to deliver a cake, and it scared me not to have to light a match to turn [the stove] on." Larry tells me: "It's terrible. We have the worst equipment. All of our equipment is twenty-five years old. That's some of the worst stuff I've ever worked on. The stove never lights. You have to light them by yourself. When you're busy and you have to turn a burner on and stop and get a match. When you're busy, every few seconds is valuable. In two seconds I can be in the cooler and half way out with something. But the burner didn't light, so the pan's not hot, so I can't cook. I have to stop and light the fire." When Paul comments about the excessive heat from the poor stove: "You think Phil [the owner] would get the hint," Bruce adds cynically: "He doesn't care. It's not close to his house."
(Field notes and personal interview, Owl's Nest)

Cooks at other establishments have their own complaints. La Pomme de Terre lacked a double convection oven for making souffles; Stan's steam table was considered of poor quality, and the leaking steam pipes were a source of complaint at the Blakemore. Cooks are never satisfied, because better equipment can always make their lives easier. Yet, acquiring the most technologically sophisticated equipment can produce anxiety, as anyone who has attempted to master a computer can attest. Further, too much equipment threatens to de-skill the occupation, either in the view of management or in the psychological perspective of workers. At the minimum, new technology alters the basis of competence (Finlay 1988). I once asked a cook if the restaurant had a food processor; he held out his hands, scorning a need for such "toys" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). A cook who can chop rapidly, efficiently, and without injury is esteemed. Some can even chop with a knife in each hand. Thus, while one might imagine that cooks welcome electric choppers, which can lighten their workload and prevent injury, these machines are a decidedly mixed blessing. Cooks do not wish equipment that looks nice (some reject copper pans, for instance) but that facilitates their professionalism. The meaning of equipment depends on the needs of work tasks and status politics.

A Dangerous World

Just as equipment can ease a worker's life, it can threaten it. Cooking can be dangerous work—a danger not set by the choices of cooks but by the structure and content of the tasks that they must perform. One nineteenth-century physician claimed that there were more injuries in the Parisian kitchens than in the mines (Herbodeau and Thalamas 1955, p. 71). Although few cooks claim that their work is among the most dangerous, all recognized the real dangers in food preparation: notably cuts and burns.[3] According to 1991 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics, of one hundred workers in eating and drinking places, 7.4 percent suffered on-the-job injuries, with 2.9 percent involving lost workdays. One cook responded when I asked about the hardest aspect of his job: "Probably the hardest thing is putting up with cuts on your hands and burns on your hands and being covered with food" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre).

Yet, like many other workers, they are fatalistic about a reality that they believe is unchangeable and part of the essence of their work: "A lot of things you have to learn how to put up with. Burns, cuts, injuries. Those are the things that nobody likes, but those are the sacrifices that you have to make. You're going to get burned and you're going to get cut" (Personal interview, Owl's Nest). This fatalism derives from working within an organization (e.g., Rubinstein 1973; Haas 1974); yet, it is a fatalism tinged with pride—they can stand the "heat" and do not have to leave the kitchen. Concentration can inoculate cooks although such focused attention is difficult to maintain consistently. If injured, cooks must live with it; it is common to see cooks bleed and work with open sores.

Fortunately serious injuries are rare. Only twice did kitchen workers require medical attention during my four months of observation.

Humor was used to distance the workers from unpleasant realities, and these injuries were transformed into jokes: "Denver, the chef, tells me that 'we just sent Melissa to the hospital. She cut herself [with a dull knife]. Nothing too serious, at most a few stitches. [Then he jokes.] She won't be able to play piano again, but I don't know if she could before. Hardy-Har-Har.' No one in the kitchen seems upset by her cut, although they want to know how it happened. When Melissa returns the next day, her co-workers joke about it" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). Cooks recall and repeat "horror stories" of grisly injuries that have occurred in the kitchen—reminding us how narrative structures occupational memory. Such stories warn fellow cooks about the need for care and concentration. Many stories deal with cuts:

Denver and Ron are talking about injuries fellow cooks have sustained. Ron describes one cook whose knife fell through his foot, but he had to continue to work because the restaurant was so busy: "When he took off his shoe at the end of the evening, his sock was just soaked in blood." Denver tells Ron about a cook whose knife slipped and split his stomach open.
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

I worked with a kid who put his thumb in a cuber, and it took his whole thumb off. To me that would be one of the worst things that could happen. I could be standing here daydreaming like I would and move this knife up and down, and forget to move that finger back and lose the tip of that finger.
(Personal interview, Owl's Nest)

A similar set of stories revolve around getting burned:

The only thing that would scare me is if I'm carrying a bucket of real hot grease, and you happen to slip. The only reason I say that is because it happened to a friend of mine. We were going to [vocational] school, and he was carrying a hot bucket of grease, and somebody went out the door in front of him and let the door go, and it hit the pot enough just to get things sloshed, and it sloshed all over his arms from here down, and what could he do? He was holding a bucket of 350-degree grease.
(Personal interview, Owl's Nest)

The worst thing that happened to me was that steamer back there. It blew up on me one day. The worst thing about it, I knew that there was something wrong with it for months. Every day I told them there was something wrong. They never believed me. Finally one day, it was Sunday, I had dressing heating up, and I went to open it up, and this time it had filled completely with scalding hot water, and this was like a waterfall. I had hot burns. And finally it was like "now do you believe." They didn't get it fixed right away. I came back to work, and it still wasn't working.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

The combination of poor equipment, blamed on organizational apathy, and lack of concentration, sometimes blamed on anomie, leads to injuries—linking organizational decisions and individual traits. The potential for danger is omnipresent, and we forget about it in practice until something happens suddenly and dramatically that forces our attention to it, creating an organizational problem—and, occasionally, in some dangerous occupations, a social problem. Most workers have little control over the equipment they must use although they attempt, as best they can, to alter the equipment for their own ends. They must make do and must trust their co-workers to do them no harm (Haas 1974).

The Mesh of Kitchen Workers

One cannot understand an occupation without recognizing the circle of surrounding colleagues. Scott (1992, p. 10) defines organizations as "social structures created by individuals to support the collaborative pursuit of specific goals." Cooks work within a kitchen mesh in which collaboration is essential. How do restaurant occupations fit together—chefs, cooks, pantry workers, servers, potmen and dishwashers?[4] I postpone discussion of the relationship between cooks and managers until chapter 5.

The well-run kitchen is an improbable triumph of a rough division of labor in which workers collaborate to satisfy customers, alleviate tension in each other's jobs, and make a profit. The negotiated order in the kitchen demands that co-workers be cordial, or at least civil. Without such pleasantness, interpersonal sabotage can undermine the work for all:

The waitresses have to be nice to the bartenders because we need our drinks fast. The bartender has to be nice to us [waitresses], because if our customers complain and it's his fault, [the manager] may blame him too. The bartender cannot serve his own customers if the busboy ignores his pleas for more ice. The busboy relies on the dishwasher for fresh supplies for the waitresses. The waitress cannot serve her customers efficiently if the cook is slow or forgets part of her order. The cooks are the least dependent on others, but they have to be nice to the waitresses to get the secret drinks we bring them from the bar. The waitresses have to be nice to the busboy to get our dishes and glasses and silverware on time. We need each other too much to get on top of each other. We all know that if one section doesn't come through the whole system will fall apart like a house of cards.
(Howe 1977, p. 100)

To be sure, this is not unique to restaurants. Hughes (1971, pp. 294, 306–9) emphasizes that even highly "professional" occupations (e.g., a doctor) rely on alliances with lowly workers. Occupations are inevitably part of webs of interaction, ties that are not only technical but also social.

Cooks and Chefs

From one perspective, a chef is merely a more experienced cook.[5] No one starts their culinary life as a chef. Cooks receive entry-level positions and then, if competent and loyal, may be promoted. Eventually the cook may manage other cooks. Yet, despite the seamless connection between cook and chef, the two "occupations" have quite dissimilar characteristics.[6] The chef is the organizer, the manager of the kitchen, and the restaurant's creative force. With this comes higher status and salary. The restaurateur Vincent Sardi (Sardi and Gehman 1953) labeled chefs "the aristocracy of the business." The cook, in contrast, is the line worker who prepares food on a routine, quotidian basis—a manual laborer.

A common cliché in trade school and restaurant kitchens is that "a chef is many things." The chef must be a generalist while the lower-status cook may be a specialist. The cook may specialize in frying food, broiling steaks, or making salads; the chef should be able to do everything: keep a food budget, repair stoves, hire personnel, provide counseling, and know about food (Schroedl 1972, p. 185). One cook explained: "A chef is someone who knows all or most aspects of the kitchen. If the baker's ill, the chef can go over and bake some desserts or bake some bread. If the prep person is ill, the chef won't feel it's beneath him to prep vegetables or make potatoes. Sort of fill in the whole line. A cook is someone who would cook the soup, cook the bread, cook the vegetables. The chef should know one end from the other" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). Although the cook is paid more than his staff (during the mid-1980s, at good restaurants in the Twin Cities, chefs earned about $30,000), he also has less job security. As in baseball, it is easy for the owner to fire his chef if his restaurant is suffering and blame the chef for organizational failures. The chef's job is always on the line. One chef contrasted cooks and chefs: "Chefs are a dime a dozen. Cooks have pretty good security. A cook could always work. [He says to a cook standing nearby:] You could walk out of here and find a job cooking tomorrow. A chef is a different story. Your security is thirty seconds. Every month they look at food costs. Your job is on the line every month" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). Because of management experience, the chef may be seen as overqualified for many jobs that cooks could fill. Finding a position as a head chef is harder than simply finding work as a cook. I met only one cook who had ever been a chef; he "demoted" himself because of the pressure and hours of being a chef.

The most important skills that distinguish chefs from cooks include creativity, personnel management, and organizational abilities. Together they constitute the chef's role.


One cook modestly suggested that the fundamental difference between a cook and a chef is that "chefs can make something out of nothing, and a cook can't" (Personal interview, Owl's Nest). Another added, "I think a chef has more of a feel for cooking, and is more creative and artistic with food" (Personal interview, Stan's). A third elaborated that creativity is not necessary for a cook: "It depends what you want to be. If you want to be a chef, creativity is very important. If you want to be a cook and work in a kitchen and do labor, you don't need to be creative; you need to do what you're told to do" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). Cooks are creative in some measure, but if they create outside a narrow range, they must clear their vision with the chef. This varies in each restaurant: for example, relatively little creativity is expected at Stan's, much more at La Pomme de Terre. The creation of new dishes, tastes, and flavors is required of chefs whereas novel placement of food is often left to cooks—with the chef glancing quickly at what is served. Culinary creativity contributes to "the authority to know" (Mukerji 1977)—the granting of decision-making autonomy. Chefs achieve this through their office while cooks must negotiate for this right, and only certain cooks are granted this privilege.


In most restaurants the chef has the day-to-day responsibility for managing the kitchen staff, including pantry workers, potmen, and dishwashers, and typically a house manager or maître d' is in change of servers and bartenders. As described above, an effective kitchen is characterized by cooperative workers, but pressure makes this climate hard to achieve. Chefs believe that a significant part of their managerial responsibility is to keep their employees happy:

These people [cooks] need stroking. You can't constantly put them down. That hurts them worse than a punch in the nose. You need a blend [of praise and criticism].
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

GAF: What is the most difficult thing about your job?

PAUL: The people, the employees. Having to know each one of them inside and out. That's where psychology can come in. How to handle every person which has a different personal makeup.
(Personal interview, Owl's Nest)

The cook's focus is the food, but becoming chef involves new demands and requires new skills, in which he or she has little training. From the line they become management and face problems akin to those foremen who are promoted from within the ranks.


A chef organizes the kitchen. While the cook focuses on limited tasks, the chef is responsible for a wide range of activities. Chefs "orchestrate," much as symphony conductors do; within the kitchen they are the decision makers and negotiators:

A cook cooks and a chef chefs. The chef is the synchronization of the transformation of the kitchen. He blends all the cooks together, all the different departments. The pantry and the lines and the banquets. Making sure that the assembly line comes together, the proper timing and all.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

There is a lot of difference between a cook and a chef. The cook has the responsibility of this is what I must do today. The chef says today the first thing I do is go and look into my cooler. I see what condition it's in. Do I need any supplies there? Does it need to be cleaned? I go in and check the line. I ask the cook how everything is today? Have you any problems? Ask everybody down the line what they need. I set my schedules up for the day, my buying for the day. Special party is coming up for this weekend, is there anything I need? Special things to do. Anything special I want to create today. Is there a special customer coming in today? . . . The chef is the overseer, creator, supervisor.
(Personal interview, Owl's Nest)

Not having responsibility for cooking, the outcome of that work remains the chef's responsibility. Although controlling the staff, like any manager, the chef is at their mercy. Their doings determine others' judgments of his or her competence. Like all supervisors and foremen his or her reputation depends on underlings. Despite being a hired worker, he or she is expected to be entrepreneurial in dealing with organizational challenges (Smith 1991).

Working with Food

In contrast to chefs, cooks are food handlers. One chef reported that "ideally a chef shouldn't really have to handle a knife very much." Cooks realize that the preparation of orders is their responsibility. Cooks expect the chef to be present when needed. They became discouraged at the Blakemore, in part because of the perceived unwillingness of the head chef to prepare food in a period of staff cutbacks. This chef defined himself as an executive chef, rather than a working chef, and preferred to avoid routine cooking, generating resentment among his staff. The cooks watched him arrive late and felt that his "visible absences" indicated that he didn't care about his job. Mere presence is a prime symbolic indicator of commitment. One cook complained:

Denver came in late as usual. We started to do these deli platters. They had [a noncook] do these platters, and he had never done them before, and they looked like garbage. [The mayor and a local foundation] were having lunch there. [The mayor] said, "I'll start my speech early because the food is so terrible." He was joking, but really! Today is one of the busiest days of the year; [Denver] came in at 11:15, and said how far are we behind. It's like he doesn't want his job anymore. He's going out of his way to screw up. . . . He's got to realize he's got to work, but he doesn't. . . . How did he know that things would be OK. He didn't call. How did he know that the restaurant didn't blow off the face of the earth. That would be the best that could happen. Where is he now? I can't stand it. . . . It makes us look like fools.
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

While the chef's absence might not have mattered much if the cooks felt an attachment to the hotel and were not stressed because of staff cutbacks, without this emotional support it was a major complaint. This cook reminds us that despite complaints, not looking "like fools" is important to workers. A sense of personal satisfaction comes from doing the job well, even if the organization and conditions of work are despised.

Even when this chef was present, cooks did not perceive him as willing to help. He explained to me while cleaning mushrooms: "I'm an administrative chef, but I do work a $3.35 an hour pantry cook could do" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). With that attitude he was loath to share this work, an attitude justified in terms of his formal responsibilities. The organizational chart meant more to him than a sense of community. Rather than being another cook with more authority and knowledge, this chef was a hotel executive who happened to oversee the kitchen: "I don't think our chef applies himself as good as he could. He doesn't like to cook at all. . . . One day I think he even put it that he likes brains over brawn, which means he would rather sit and do his paperwork than sit and get his fingers dirty. [He'd] rather sit in his office. There are times when a chef can put on a white shirt [their uniform] and help out because of pure necessity" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). This chef magnifies the strain between cooks and chefs—one between management (foremen) and labor when both come from the same labor pool. Cooks and chefs can be seen as members of the same occupation or as members of distinctively different ones. They can belong to the same community or to different ones. The problem at the Blakemore was that, in the context of organizational strain and financial hardship, the chef was not perceived as on "the same side" as the cooks: cooks felt that he had "sold out." He confronted the problems that factory foremen face when job categories shift (e.g., Gouldner 1954). Cooks' requests for help didn't have sufficient negotiating force to change his definition of their relationship. He was embittered toward the organization and not committed to his work—a perspective he shared with his cooks. Perhaps a chef more committed to his occupation and his employer, or cooks similarly committed, might have adjusted more easily. In less than three years that hotel had had four chefs. Shortly after the completion of the research, they had another.

The Status Structure of Cooks

A restaurant is a small organization and must be analyzed as such: through the lenses of organizational theory and small group dynamics. In the restaurants studied, no more than five cooks were at work at one time and often only two or three. As is true in any organization, cooks have distinct roles, in part due to experience, formal title, and the qualities of the individual cook.

In larger restaurants, such as hotel kitchens, one's tasks defines one's status (Willan 1977, p. 185). William Foote Whyte (1948, pp. 34–38) writes:

Other things being equal, the employee who prepared the finished products tended to have a higher standing than one who worked at earlier stages of preparation. . . . [T]here is another factor powerful enough to overrule all these considerations—the prestige value of the materials used. . . . We found first that the stations themselves were socially ranked. At the top, of course, stood the range where all the cooking took place. Here were the positions that were most highly paid and considered more skilled. . . . Toward the bottom were the chicken-cooking and vegetable-preparation stations. Vegetable preparation was under the supervision of the vegetable cooks, who worked at the range. . . . [T]he higher status workers worked on the higher status vegetables, whenever there were more than one being handled at a time. When they were all working on the same vegetable, the higher status workers handled later stages in the preparation process.

Whyte does not present sufficient ethnographic detail to examine how such fine status distinctions made sense to kitchen staff. One's materials apparently ennobled or contaminated one's public identity, in the classic model of "dirty work" (Hughes 1971). In my restaurants there were too few cooks for any meaningful divisions although some distinctions were evident.[7] At La Pomme de Terre preparation of side dishes (e.g., vegetables) and cold dishes (e.g., salad) was the domain of the most junior, lowest-ranked cook. In contrast, cutting large slabs of raw meat was regularly done by the head chef, symbolic work, to be sure. At Stan's Steakhouse the cook who grilled the steaks had more status than the fry cook, who had more status than the cook who worked the broiler, preparing fish and scallops. As one cook explained when I asked whether the fry cook or the broiler cook had more status: "The fry cook has higher status than the [broiler] cook on the other side. . . . He's got more control over the orders, and he works a lot more with the other [stove] cook rather than the broiler cook" (Personal interview, Stan's). The most senior cook had the right to choose where he wished to work; he always chose the stove. The second cook usually—but not always—chose the fry station. Tasks in the kitchen are apportioned on status although cooperation is common because of the small number of cooks and their friendliness.

Personal status differences are also evident. A new cook, like workers elsewhere (Van Maanen and Schien 1979; Haas 1972), is tested by colleagues. Novices must demonstrate that they are sufficiently trustworthy to be co-workers:

DIANE: I think I had to prove myself when Tim hired me.

GAF: Even though you had a lot of experience?

DIANE: It was listed experience that didn't mean shit when you were behind the stove. People want to see you work out. They don't care what you say, they want to see it.

GAF: What convinced them?

DIANE: That I just kept it up. I was fast. I just came right in, and no one had to show me how to do things; they knew I had experience because I could take the meat and portion it fast.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

This harmonious acceptance is not invariable. At the Blakemore certain cooks didn't trust others and would patronize them, as one said to a foreign-born cook searching for some supplies: "Are you looking after those eggs out there? Please go cook them. Don't let them burn" (Field notes). This cook meekly returned to his station although the criticizer misunderstood his legitimate purpose. A worker with collegial status is allowed more errors than one without such status—they have sufficient idiosyncracy credits (Hollander, 1958) to deflect blame: "Howie burns a plate of pine nuts he is cooking and jokes to Tim: 'I think these nuts got a little overdone.' Tim doesn't seem upset. This contrasts to Tim's anger when Lesley, whom he eventually fires, burns a pan of cheese puffs" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). I do not suggest that Howie and Lesley were equally competent; they were not. Yet, as in all things, one's social position has behavioral consequences, even among those who are theoretically equals.

The Place of Pantry Workers

Functionally cooks and pantry workers have similar work. Both are paid to transform raw ingredients into finished products for which customers will gladly pay to eat. Both are under the authority of the chef, but their status and training differences are enormous. Pantry workers prepare cold foods, notably salads and desserts, whereas hot food, except toast and hard-boiled eggs, are prepared by cooks. Only two of the four restaurants employed pantry workers: the Blakemore Hotel and the Owl's Nest. At La Pomme de Terre a pastry chef created desserts, which waiters "dished out"—a mundane way to describe such glorious creations. Salads were prepared by the junior cook working the garde manger (cold food) station. At Stan's lettuce and coleslaw was prechopped and desserts were purchased from outside. Both were served by waitresses. At the Owl's Nest and the Blakemore pantry workers prepared salads and apportioned prepurchased desserts. In sharp contrast to the largely male cooking staff, seven of the eight pantry workers at these two restaurants were female.

These workers were not extensively trained. One pantry worker was a high school student; a second was marginally retarded. Only one had any post-secondary training. These women would not have been hired as cooks had there been openings, and none of the cooks had previously worked in the pantry. As the head chef at the Blakemore explained: "[At] some places the pantry will handle everything that is cold. Here they will not prepare anything for banquets or cheese platters. They don't have the training. They will not [cook] anything [to be served] cold, except eggs. They are not doing the canapés, but, of course, they have their own work" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). His perspective was underlined by comments by several pantry workers who explained that I didn't really want to study them because they knew nothing about cooking. They performed their jobs but felt that these were quite different than cooking—their work was manual labor, a blue-collar, feminine occupation in contrast to more "professional" male work. Pantry work rarely connected to the work of cooks. If everything was proceeding normally, the cooks would ignore the pantry (see Whyte 1948, pp. 57, 61). Cooks and pantry workers had segmented their occupational domains and divided status accordingly (Abbott 1988).[8]

Although cooks and pantry workers shared the kitchen and both prepared food, no one would claim that, by any definition, they were doing "the same thing." Each occupation had its own "career," and each had distinct occupational ideologies.

Doing the Dishes

As Everett Hughes notes, virtually every high-status occupation has low-status occupations surrounding it. Although cooking cannot make the status claims of law or medicine, cooks, like lawyers and doctors, require an "alliance . . . with the lowliest and most despised of human occupations" (Hughes 1971, p. 306). In restaurants this means dishwashers and potmen, who clean half-consumed meals and burned, caked-on food from dishes and pots. As one cook explained, in the tradition of Hughes: "At hotels there is a very definite class structure. Dishwashers are the bottom of the ladder. They're the backbone of the kitchen" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel).

These secondary occupations provide employment for those who are not easily employable elsewhere: newly landed immigrants (often undocumented Latin Americans and Asians), the mentally handicapped, the mildly mentally ill, and the physically challenged. It is part of the dual labor market. While some of the dishwashers are "normal," or not defined as other than normal, many are in protected categories.[9] The restaurant industry provides a service for the American economy: providing what some consider human "refuse" the opportunity to deal with culinary refuse. These workers receive modest wages for their onerous and unattractive work.

When two groups of workers are mutually dependent, have different statuses associated with their work, and are from divergent social backgrounds, accommodations are needed. These permit cooks to engage in friendly patronization toward these lower-status "dirty workers": just as culinary workers may themselves be dirty workers in the houses of princes and the cafeterias of schools.[10] Further, dirty work may have its own division: staff distinguish between potmen and dishwashers at the Blakemore Hotel and the Owl's Nest. Although both groups had low status, the potmen had less status because they had to clean off more food by hand: they dealt directly with pollution (Douglas 1966).

In their flexible and informal kitchen organization, cooks had leeway to order the potmen and dishwashers, and these lower-status workers obeyed, even though taking such orders was outside their job description. These "status claims," beyond the formal chain of command, are expected and need no extended negotiation, reminding us that status work translates into physical labor:

Diane asks Gus, the dishwasher-potman, to scrape asparagus for her, which he does.
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Mel, the day cook: "Ray [the potman], why don't you peel a couple dozen more potatoes, so we can cut them up for french fries tomorrow." Ray does as he is asked.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

This differs from a simple request for cooperation—although it involves that as well—in that the requests always flow from cook to washer. The dishwashers and potmen never requested help of the cooks. Whereas cooks enjoy free time and carve "temporal niches," they become upset when they see the washers take breaks and often request that these workers do something, even if unrelated to their jobs. Professionals have temporal discretion not allowed to manual laborers. Their status gives them the right to interfere with the work lives of others in ways that would offend them if they were on the receiving end:

Tim, the chef, says to Gus, the washer: "Gus, I'm gonna find you something to do. You're making me nervous. Why don't you take out some of the bottles."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Jon, a cook, says to Ray, the potman, after having him bring a towel: "Just trying to keep you busy, Ray." Ray jokes: "I'll throw the towel at you." He doesn't.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Dishwashers tend to be pretty flaky individuals just because people don't consider it a very pleasant profession. People wash dishes who can't do anything else. . . . You do have to see that they have something to do.
(Personal interview, Minneapolis chef)

The right to make demands of these washers also permits cooks to be nasty in ways that are unlikely between cooks who regard each other as status equals. Admittedly, washers and cooks often were friendly, and cooks would occasionally make steaks and other food for the washers; however, certain forms of joking would not have been possible if the status differences were not solidified:[11] "The bell on the stove rings, indicating that the rolls are ready. Bruce, a cook, tells Dean, a potman, that he should get the rolls out of the oven. Dean responds jovially: 'It's time to leave. Punch me out, Bruce.' Bruce jokes somewhat nastily: 'I'll punch you out if you leave.' On another occasion Bruce snaps a towel at Dean's buttocks" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). A similar status claim is evident in criticism of these potmen:

Gordon is angry because he cannot find his bread hook and yells at Cal, a potman, who he thinks has misplaced it. Cal responds in some way, to which Gordon says: "I don't want to hear any more smart-ass." Cal: "I'm just telling you." Gordon (angry): "This is a restaurant. I'm not going to play games." Later another worker finds the hook, although it is never clear who, if anyone, misplaced it. Gordon restates: "I don't like people being a smart-ass."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

Dean, the pot washer, accidentally closes the cooler door on Jay, a pantry worker. Dean apologizes to Jay, who remains annoyed: "I didn't know you were in there." Jay snarls: "Next time I won't notice your face is in there."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Such talk would be unlikely among those who considered themselves to reside in the same status universe (cooks, pantry workers, and servers). The washers had a different status in the kitchen, and they were thought of as fully expendable and replaceable, even though responsible cleaners may be harder to find than responsible cooks. These are quintessential dirty workers, necessary for operating the establishment but functionally nonpersons.

Serving for a Living

The activity most associated with a restaurant is, with the exception of cooking, serving. Virtually all restaurants—with the exception of some cafeterias and automats—have a staff whose job is to serve food to waiting customers.[12] Typically, at least in the more elaborate restaurants, food preparers are not servers. Yet, because cooks and servers are so interdependent, they must negotiate an effective working relationship (Paules 1991, p. 86). The two sets of workers have a different occupational focus despite their propinquity. Cooks work on food; servers work with customers. Cooks are product oriented; servers are people oriented. This specialized division of labor with two groups of experts in an establishment is rare organizationally—it would be as if one never met one's surgeon or always tipped one's tailor.

Those in the restaurant industry believe that cooks have higher public status than servers (Whyte 1948; Marshall 1986). Yet, servers—at least in popular establishments—earn more than cooks. Tips count. Few restaurants require servers and cooks to share tips. The claims of customers complicate power relations further. Customers demand prompt service, forcing servers to pressure cooks. Cooks resent these demands in that they do not benefit from this pressure; servers do—shaping their distinct monetary perspectives. Cooks are asked to give up their temporal autonomy so that others can benefit.

The stereotype is that cooks and servers hate each other and fight like cats and dogs. One writer describes them as "natural enemies," picturing a cook and waitress "punctuating their conversation with flying plates" (Koenig 1980, p. 46). Frances Donovan (1920) in her classic sociological study of waitresses witnessed a cook throw a plate of stew at a waitress. The current chef at the Owl's Nest told me that the former chef "would do anything he could to make it more miserable for [servers]" (Field notes, Owl's Nest).

Yet, at these four restaurants, this stereotype didn't fit well although the staff recognized tensions:

Tom, a house captain, describes a French chef: "He was compelled to be the meanest s.o.b. in the world. He was compelled to be a tyrant. . . . He yells at waiters, 'All you do is take the tip, you don't do shit.' . . . He had a real condescending attitude."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

One cook generalizes: "The bulk of [waitresses] have no common sense and make more money than they deserve."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

In turn, servers believe that cooks don't understand their problems, the pressures under which they work, and that they are always "onstage." Each occupation holds to its perspective, sparking anger when they clash.[13]

While all occupational disputes are grounded in the conditions of contact, examining the conflicts between cooks and servers can be generalized to other turf battles. Neighboring occupations create accommodations to provide perks. The underlying issue is autonomy—the access to control of work domains and resources (Abbott 1988). As Coser, Kadushin, and Powell (1982, p. 296) depict the publishing industry:

Hostility and conflict are likely to emerge when there is intense interaction between people who occupy different positions and have different power resources, yet who are engaged in what each perceives to be similar tasks about which each claims equal competence. . . . [T]he power differences between editors and agents lead to conflict, as both are engaged in serving authors. Editors have the power to accept or reject a manuscript, but agents can retaliate by insisting on strict definitions of terms. What is more, just as physicians complain about the "rule-bound" and "compulsive" behavior of nurses, complaints about the "bookkeeper mentality" of agents and their "fidgeting over commas and semantics" can be explained by resentment on the part of the powerful [editors] toward people whom they perceive to be of inferior status, yet who exercise control over their own activities.

Like editors with regard to agents, cooks are frustrated by the behavior of servers—attitudes compounded by the reality that most servers earn more. Both constrained by external clients, their occupational domains abut, with each group viewing the other with annoyance. Cooks have status while servers get the cash.

Pleasing the Customer

The fundamental desire of the server is to please the customer (Prus 1987). Although servers have techniques of control, the customer controls the server through the power of the tip. Further, in the long run, the customer has an equally potent weapon: patronage. Even those servers who claim not to think about tips must satisfy their customers to have them return and recommend the restaurant to others. Given the distinct perspectives of cooks and customers, how can the server gain autonomy?

Studies of waiters and waitresses indicate that servers manipulate customers (see Mars and Nicod 1984; Butler and Snizek 1976; Butler and Skipper 1980; Donovan 1920; Whyte 1946; Paules 1991), even if this manipulation has limited effects (Davis 1959; Karen 1962). This need for manipulation derives from the authority of cooks, as well as from the demands of customers. Servers are at the "mercy" of cooks: "A waitress is held hostage by the cook. She is visible, the cook is not; she suffers the customer's ill will directly, the cook does not. Her very livelihood depends on the quality of food coming out of the kitchen, because the customer is yet to be born who feels obliged to tip generously for a bad meal. A waitress can be efficient, courteous and attentive, but she cannot, for instance, make a stale roll fresh" (Smith 1984, p. 13). Cooks, in contrast, emphasize that no matter how well they cook, they receive no additional recompense and precious few compliments. Why should it matter to them? Why should they be altruistic for their co-workers, other than to support their own self-identity? Servers must ask, beseech, and occasionally insist that cooks redo dishes to meet the standards of their customers, requests that cooks usually accede to but sometimes without grace. Servers encourage cooks to recook food, especially when it means only additional cooking, rather than making the dish from scratch; whereas, cooks resist these demands. These requests are most likely when servers value their customers. Thus, customers perceived as unlikely to tip well, notably women and minorities, may receive poorer service.

Servers ask cooks to please their valued customers, even though this request creates tension:

JON, the cook, who calls out orders written by servers: Ordering a liver medium.

PAUL, annoyed: What?! Did [the server] ask if we had any?

MEL: He's probably got the wrong flyer on his menu. That was on yesterday's.

PAUL, to Jon: Why don't you ask him what's going on?

MEL, who speaks to the server: The guy [customer] said, "I know I can get it if I ask for it."

The cooks make the liver, grumbling.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Steffi, a waitress, to Al about baked potatoes she thinks are cold: "Are you going to heat these up?" Al responds, annoyed: "Are you serious?" Steffi answers: "I'm dead serious." Evan replaces the potatoes.
(Field notes, Stan's)

Ultimately, cooks do what the servers request, in part because they value interpersonal smoothness, in part because they recognize that the request is the customer's, and in part because servers can always complain to management.

In pleasing the customer servers not only demand special treatment but additional food. Food costs are a shared concern of chefs and management, not of servers. If more food increases one's tip, servers desire that larger plate as long as they avoid hassle from cooks or management. The question is how much one can reasonably "get away with." This involves negotiation, grounded in the time and place of the request.[14]

Some servers "protect" their customers by warning them not to order certain dishes, because they do not think the customer will enjoy it, because they don't wish to ask if the kitchen has run out, or because they think the dish is of poor quality. The first two justifications are understandable given the constraints of serving; yet, they annoy cooks in that the servers are seen as lazy. In contrast, criticizing food is seen as intolerable. Customers feel that this displays considerable trust and may increase tips (Prus 1987); for cooks and managers this represents a serious breakdown of "dramaturgical loyalty": if the servers do not think that the food their "team" produces is edible, what does this say of their teammates. These servers place their relations with their customers above the standing of the restaurant:

The cheesecake that the pastry chef made didn't set properly and had a runny middle. One of the captains explains this to Tim, the chef, at 9:30 P.M. (The servers had not been offering it on their dessert cart that evening but hadn't mentioned it to the chef.) Tim is really annoyed and says to me: "It kinda makes you wonder what they're doing out there. Sometimes it's intimidation; they're afraid to tell me that something's not servable." I ask Tim if the servers ever tell customers not to order something. He responds: "If someone recommends that [a customer not order a dish because it] wasn't very good, they wouldn't be here for five minutes. That's the worst thing in a restaurant. If they don't like it, they should come to me."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

As long as there are different reward structures for these two occupations, servers will be oriented toward satisfying the customer while cooks will attempt to maximize their own satisfactions. This is a general problem of organizations that double as production and service establishment: servers look outward, producers inward.

The Tip

Few things so vex cooks as do tips, reminding cooks of the divisions between them as salaried workers and servers whose income depends on their interpersonal and entrepreneurial skills (Paules 1991). Cooks earn tips but do not receive them. Servers see themselves at the mercy of cooks, but cooks feel unappreciated, only cooking for their own satisfaction. Restaurant industry traditions are such that cooks never receive tips. Cooks are tripped by their "professional" claims: would one tip one's doctor? Some cooks were outspoken about this "injustice":[15]

I think it would be a very good thing if the cooking staff did get their portion. Not necessarily in equal portion, but a fair portion of the tips. If you look at it in this respect, the dining room can blow up with all the waiters in it, and people can still come through the kitchen to pick up their food and eat it on the back steps. Without the kitchen, they'd all be eating bananas.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

I think tipping should be abolished in the first place. Tipping is a very, very sore subject with me. . . . What I've seen for so many years, the cooks that were trained professionals have gone through an educational process to become good at what they're doing, worked hard, sweated, dripping, greasy, slimy for eight hours over a hot stove listening to a waitress bitch at them for $22.50 a night, when a waitress is walking home with $80 of tax-free cash that they're ripping off from the government.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

Not all cooks felt so strongly, and few demanded a full fifty-fifty split, but the tension derived from differential modes of payment touches the heart of this occupational friction. Servers emphasize that they work for less than minimum wage and that on a given night, week, or month, their tips may be minuscule.[16] They risk their security while cooks can count on a regular income. Only once was a tip shared: the cooks were asked to make a large order "to go" for a customer, outside their usual responsibility. The customer left a $15.00 tip which the waitress split with them—even though the work was all theirs. In fact, the cooks appreciated her gesture (Field notes, Owl's Nest).

Servers rarely refer to tips to negotiate with cooks; too many cooks would be offended by the underlining of their separate organizational roles. Such a blatant reference to the server's self-interest only occurs as a last resort of frustrated staff: "Doug apparently didn't see a side order on one ticket. When Amy, the server, tells him, he responds: 'Tell him I can't do it,' although he could if he wanted to. Amy snaps: 'Doug, you know, it's my tip.' Doug answers: 'If he wants to wait for another one [I'll make it]'" (Field notes, Stan's). More often, the discussion of tipping is framed as humor, allowing co-workers to speak in ways that otherwise would be considered illegitimate. Still, the discourse is sensitive, cutting close to the bone:

Doni, a new waitress, is supposed to observe in the kitchen tonight so she can learn the portion sizes and see how cooks work. She comments that she will make minimum wage tonight with no tips. Paul, the chef, sarcastically responds: "That's all we get." Doni laughs nervously, unsure how to respond.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Howie, a cook, jokes to Tim, the chef, that he should take them all out to the local bar that they frequent, because the night was so busy, and it was judged to go smoothly. Tim jokes: "I think the waiters should be taking us all out." He informs me that tonight the waiters will each make about $80 in addition to their hourly wage of $2.80.
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

These remarks, ostensibly humor, reflect interoccupational tension. Cooking is literally a thankless occupation in that satisfied clients cannot directly communicate their satisfaction. Backstage performers feel underappreciated, in contrast to those who receive thanks through applause and cash. Cooks, like upholsterers and dry cleaners, have only their salaries, occasional complimentary comments by management, and the esteem of their colleagues to provide satisfaction. Aside from being vexing in its own right, the pay differential symbolizes a lack of appreciation.

The Battle for Temporal Control

In chapter 2, I emphasized how time and timing affect the occupational lives of cooks, but timing is also critical to the negotiations between cooks and servers. The server must supply food at its peak of readiness, the cook's goal as well. Contrary to the interest of the cook, who focuses on the food, the server must supply the food at just the moment that the customer is ready to consume it. As customers, we recognize how frustrated we become when rushed by a server, or when we must "wait" for food. We imagine ourselves to be the only persons in the restaurant and implicitly assume that cooks are preparing food for us alone. Management and servers wish us to embrace this illusion of organizational focus in that it makes us feel special , increasing the tip and the likelihood of repeated patronage (see Prus 1987). This illusion, however, increases the pressure on cooks and the strain between cooks and servers.

Ideally, cooks and servers are in continual communication with each other. Servers judge the progress of their customers in completing the previous course and then tell the cooks when to start preparing the next. This is easier when the course can be quickly prepared: salad or dessert. A main course that requires twenty minutes involves more guesswork: one must start preparing it while customers are sipping their soup. In rush periods other servers are demanding that their customers be served. How then is this problem—a problem of queuing—handled (Schwartz 1975)?

In three restaurants the structure of timing is simple: the server presents the ticket and then—approximately twenty minutes later—picks up the dish, in theory leaving the speed at which customers eat their food out of the process. At La Pomme de Terre life is more complicated. The server places the ticket on the counter when received; approximately seven minutes before the customer needs the main course the ticket is placed on the wheel by the server, and cooks prepare it. This builds flexibility into the system. Yet, this doesn't entirely solve the problem, because of different speeds at which customers are ready for their meals. Inevitably, the servers attempt to influence the cooks to have their meals at just the moment that they need it: even though they are uncertain of this moment in advance.

A strategy of servers is to ask when their food will be ready. The question brings that order to the cook's attention, hopefully speeding up their work. If the answer is not what the server wishes to hear, they can plead for the speedy preparation of their food: a technique, grounded in the belief in collegiality, common in organizations that depend on a linked division of labor. Alternately, servers can "work" the customer through disclaimers and accounts. This can be done by explaining in advance that the dinner will take longer than expected (i.e., providing a disclaimer [Hewitt and Stokes 1975]) or by excusing or justifying the delay (Scott and Lyman 1968). Alternately, servers can slowly clear the table, apparently decreasing the wait between courses, or they can simply avoid visual contact with those customers. Servers learn how to look in precisely the wrong direction when in their interest. If the food is to be ready soon and cannot be kept warm, the servers may attempt to bus the used plates of their customers early.

In addition, servers use impression-management techniques to speed their orders. A server might simply ask cooks to rush his or her order. When, at the Owl's Nest, a server asks for an order "downtown," the order is needed as soon as possible. At the least, servers want to know when the dish will be ready so they can work their customers. This demand can lead to friction: "Maggie asks Al about one of her orders on a busy night: 'Can you give me a rough estimate?' Al answers, somewhat nastily: 'When it's done.' Maggie, clearly annoyed, waits for a further response, but doesn't get one. When Maggie leaves the kitchen, Evan, a fellow cook, says sarcastically: 'Pretty rough.' When Maggie returns, Al says to Evan: 'Pretty rough estimate, huh, Evan.' Maggie looks angry but doesn't respond" (Field notes, Stan's). One cook comments in humorous frustration: "I swear sometimes if we had a gun, we'd turn around and just shoot them" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel), while some servers, no doubt, have the reverse desire. Aware of the potential resistance of cooks to requests, servers manipulate the tickets to get their food "early." When an order is received, cooks know that they have a certain amount of time to prepare the order. At the Owl's Nest servers were expected to write the time they submitted their orders, so that cooks would know when food was needed. Some servers systematically indicated that the ticket was submitted a few minutes earlier than when actually submitted. This meant that the food will be ready earlier than it "should" have been, and cooks had less time to cook that order. The server gained at the expense of the cook. Cooks were well aware of this practice and usually did their best to accommodate it, grumbling as they did so. Consequently, cooks didn't treat the time written on the ticket seriously, and if a dish was "late," they did not worry.

Servers, as mediators, need their food when their customers demand it: sometimes this is before the food is ready; at other times after. If servers demand food too early, cooks are stressed; but if they don't pick up the food on time, the food is poor and the cook seems incompetent. Just as the server is at the mercy of the cook, the cook is at the mercy of the server. One cook described the friction between cooks and servers: "The biggest objection is letting the food get up there so it gets cold and [the customers] think it's the cook's fault when actually it's the waitresses who sat at the bar and bullshitted with the bartender and just let the food sit there. [The food] comes back, and we have to cook it twice, reheat it or something" (Personal interview, Stan's). This is particularly salient when the restaurant is busy: for example, on weekend evenings at Stan's:

Evan says to me: "You see what happens when [waitresses] don't pick up their orders. Al is putting steaks back on because there is no room to put them up" (i.e., the counter is entirely filled with plates).
(Field notes, Stan's)

Al and Evan, in unison when Lauren enters the kitchen: Yeah, Lauren.

Lauren: I know I'm late again.

Evan: We just put [your order] up.

Al, joking: After it was reheated.

Lauren: Those french fries look awful.

Al, sarcastic: They looked nice ten minutes ago.

Lauren: I'll go against my better judgment and take them out.
(Field notes, Stan's)

Negotiation and social control are implicated in the relationship between cooks and servers. Each occupation has its agenda and domain of expertise; both are dependent on client demands that cannot easily be predicted in advance, but with which only the servers must deal. One cook explained the dilemma in terms of emotional management—the backstage of the smiling front described well by Hochschild (1983) among airline attendants:

A customer only has thirty minutes, and they want their food; [the waitress] would then bring that hostility back to the cooks. She cannot display that in the restaurant; she has to smile. She comes through the doors, she lets it all hang out. Now you've got anywhere from two to seven waitresses, and the waitresses feel that they have the only tables in the entire restaurant. They want their food and they want it now, and it better be good. At that particular time they don't acknowledge or care about the other six servers, and they hassle the cook enough so they get their food.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

Emotional management by the servers and sympathetic identification by the cooks are critical to organizational harmony.

Information Preserves

A routine complaint by cooks is that servers do not understand kitchen life. The problem is the general one of communication and the establishment of a common information preserve between two occupational worlds. It is often more the exception than the rule that everything on the menu is available. Further, each restaurant had nightly specials, so some items not on the menu are available. How do servers know? Since these restaurants do not schedule daily meetings at which the specials and unavailable dishes are described, miscommunication is likely. Confusion is compounded because once the rush begins the cooks dislike being questioned by servers. One cook retorted when "badgered" by a server: "What are you talking about. We got fifty things going on. You're driving me out of my mind" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre).

Adding to the difficulties of communication, the availability of foods may change throughout the evening. The restaurant may run out of a special dish, and the cooks will discontinue it or add another. Servers need to be aware of when a dish is almost sold out, so that two servers do not sell the same "last" item, a delicate process of negotiating responsibilities.

In each restaurant cooks complained that servers didn't listen when they explained what was available:

Tim, the head chef, is annoyed when he learns that only one of the servers has been selling the mousse. He comments to me: "It's easier not to offer it than to keep checking to see how many they have. It really rattles me. They don't like to have to go back and tell the customer they're out of it."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

A server requests an order of short ribs. Mel tells him: "We've been out of short ribs for an hour." Paul, the head chef, says to me: "See how well they listen. What a life!"
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Bernice, a pantry worker, says to Diana, a waitress: "No more specials." Diana comments: "How many times do I have to hear that." Bernice jokes, seemingly a little annoyed: "How many times have I told you that and you've come back and given me an order."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

Doris comes back to the kitchen with an order for scampi, not realizing that the kitchen had been out of scampi for thirty minutes although there was a sign posted to that effect. She says: "Back to the drawing board." Doug, the head cook, says: "I thought I told her." Evan says: "I told her first." Later Maggie comes into the kitchen and asks for "three orders of scampi." Doug tells her: "We're out of scampi." Maggie jokes: "Just wanted to see if you guys were listening."
(Field notes, Stan's)

When two occupations abut each other, confusion about the content of a shared information preserve is common. It is not only servers who ignore or misinterpret; cooks also sometimes misread or misunderstand the tickets written by servers. They believe that the server has requested something other than what was actually requested. Cooks, like some nurses, are likely to blame these errors on handwriting, no matter the true cause: "Jon tells me that cooks can't read the writing of some servers: 'Some of them write instructions in the corner [of the ticket]. Sometimes we just give [the tickets] back to them'" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). Workers collectively create a system of communication in organizations (Boden 1994)—creating structure through talk. When it breaks down, the involved workers must apportion blame and justification among themselves while still maintaining the illusion for the customer that "everything is normal."

Separation of Work Domains

Cooks have their work sphere and expertise just as servers have theirs. Although there is cooperation in the doing of some tasks, this is relatively rare. More often a sharp boundary separates the doings of cooks and servers. This distinction—one of occupational domain and community—is evident in the following dialogue between Mickey, a server, and Denny, the day cook:

Mickey: We make the best pâtés around.

Denny, joking: We?

Mickey: You do.
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

In jest, cooks sometimes ask the servers to cook (never the reverse): "At about 9:20 P.M. Tom, one of the house captains, jokes with Howie that 'we're all in except that 10:30 deuce [table for two] that's gonna have six courses.' The unstated implication is that the cooks will work late. Howie responds: 'You always wanted to cook. Now you get your chance'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Occupations have their own task domains and guard these areas jealously (Abbott 1988) although an outsider might wonder precisely what is being preserved. An answer, of course, is occupational autonomy and political control of one's work environment as symbolically reflected in the division of labor. Noncooperation may be as strategic as cooperation: one reason for the inflexibility built into union contracts.

Much of the separation between cooks and servers deals with spatial rights. The kitchen is the domain of the cook; the "front" or dining room belongs to the server. Cooks complain when servers intrude into their area, particularly to do a cook's task—even though in theory this intrusion might relieve the work of the cook.

Cooks, especially those who work in tight spaces, routinely warn servers to remain out of "their" areas:

Paul, the head chef, tells his fellow cooks: "I don't want to see the waitresses in the cooler or the freezer. That's what we get paid for. Some of them are really notorious for that."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Several waitresses are standing in the cook's area. Doug, the head cook, is annoyed, commenting sarcastically: "Who's working here?" One waitress apologizes, saying "Sorry, Doug." Doug backs down: "Don't let it happen again."
(Field notes, Stan's)

Cooks demand autonomy over their kitchen. Although cooks heed management and a status structure operates in the kitchen, servers have no right to judge the organization of the cook's space. The division of labor is a spatial, as well as a behavioral, reality.

Accommodations and Perks

Cooks and servers are not routinely hostile to each other. Indeed, all occupations that maintain regular contact develop techniques to foster pleasant relations. As restaurants trade in food and drink, these items typically are the medium of exchange. In each restaurant cooks provided food for servers, above and beyond the mediocre staff meals provided. In turn, in three restaurants cooks would receive soft drinks and beers from servers and bartenders. These perks improve the conditions of employment. Although this is minor occupational deviance, it is expected. John Simmons, owner of the New York restaurant Gage & Tollner, reflected: "If someone works in an ice cream parlour, he's going to make himself a sundae. You'd have to be crazy if you worked in a good restaurant and didn't sneak a shrimp cocktail once in a while" (Koenig 1980, p. 46). Mars and Nicod (1984, p. 112) note in their study of hotel waiters, "Everyone fiddles a little"; anyone who doesn't would be considered odd or dangerous.

Sharing food was common in the restaurants I observed:

Kate tells me that she will use some of the steaks left over from the banquet to feed the waitresses for their employees' meal, despite the fact that hotel management wants leftover steaks used for other dishes.
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

Amy, a waitress, asks Doug, the head cook, about the chicken breast specials:

Amy: How many of them do you have left?

Doug: How many of them do you need?

Amy: I want one for myself.

Doug, joking: How much are you willing to pay me?

Doug makes chicken breasts for the waitresses.
(Field notes, Stan's)

Servers cannot assume that the cooks will be willing to give them the food that they ask for, trading favors or pleading may be needed as the cooks are responsible for minimizing food costs; servers become supplicants for the moment. Giving servers perks costs the cooks, and so cooks may refuse to provide food: "Ron, a cook, says to Laurie, a server: 'Special today is rockfish. . . . Tastes like red snapper.' Laurie asks: 'Will you cook one so we can taste it.' Ron responds pleasantly: 'No way.' When Laurie points out that they might sell more fish if they taste it, he relents'" (Field notes, Blakemore). Laurie's argument justifies the provision of perks to the servers. As the head chef of the Owl's Nest reported when he told me that he regularly made specials for his servers to taste: "If they like it, they'll sell it" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). One is unlikely to find a stable relationship among workers in which one occupation continually provided benefits for the other without some measure of symbolic recompense. Servers can make cooks' lives easier by manipulating customers to order certain dishes and by keeping customer complaints away from the kitchen and management; cooks, in turn, reward servers through comestibles. As long as these rewards stay within bounds of fiscal propriety, the relationship will be smooth.


Occupations are both bound together and separated from each other. As the poet Robert Frost wrote, walls can make good neighbors—so long as we agree on the boundaries. Gates and the height of the walls surely count. In this chapter I emphasize the nonculinary, occupational structure of life in the kitchen, focusing on how occupations interpenetrate, share information preserves, and guard their domains. Every occupation operates under constraints grounded in their work relations. Workers strive to make their days go smoothly and the work tasks pleasant. To achieve this end they must gain some measure of control over their materials and their colleagues, both inside and outside their world. The kitchen is situated within an organization, between management and customers, and within an economy, and all affect how kitchen work is organized. Merely manipulating foodstuffs is insufficient, however graceful that manipulation might be. Interaction with colleagues, while essential, cannot blind workers to the others who affect choices within an occupation; the place and personnel must be manipulated as well. This manipulation of place and colleagues is an ongoing characteristic of all occupations.

The way that an organization has been structured with its set of occupations, the way that an organization connects with clients and suppliers, and the way that an occupation organizes itself in its domain of expertise affects the specific behaviors and cultures in the workplace. With the desire for control and autonomy, coupled with the hope for smoothness and pleasure, workers shape their actions, not freely, but "realistically," accounting for the macrorealities of the organizational field.


1. A novice walking into a restaurant kitchen may be struck by the gargantuan size of some of the equipment. I took particular notice of this in the hotel kitchen, where huge kettles were used to make soup.

2. Only at Stan's Steakhouse did cooks use restaurant knives.

3. Occasionally cooks mention the danger of injury from slippery floors or from heavy lifting.

4. In these restaurants there were also house managers, captains, busboys, bookkeepers, parking valets, and bartenders. I will not discuss these occupations in this analysis.

5. Stan's Steakhouse did not have an employee called "chef"; they employed a "head cook." This man had the day-to-day responsibilities of running the kitchen, but the owner (and his son) was more involved in the management of the kitchen than was true at other restaurants. At the Blakemore Hotel the chef also had somewhat diminished responsibility, reporting to the hotel's house manager. Still, although the supervision was closer, the chef had responsibilities similar to those found at the other restaurants with the notable exception that major changes in the menu were often suggested by the management of the hotel chain.

6. The distinction between cook and chef seems more firmly drawn in European restaurants, which parallels the more structured class distinctions existing continue there. As one American head "chef" who has worked in European haute cuisine restaurants commented: "'I consider myself a good professional cook, but not a chef. Not after working with the great chefs.' He tells a story about Didier Oudill, an assistant to Paul Bocuse in one cooking seminar and a formidable chef himself, meeting a young woman who introduced herself as a chef in a Napa Valley restaurant. Gesturing toward Bocuse across the room, Didier said, 'I am a cook. He is the chef'" (Bates 1984, p. 32). This compares to a comment made to me by a cook at the Owl's Nest: "Bruce tells me that he thinks of himself as the 'assistant chef' although he says that his actual title is vague. He adds: 'Or I could be sauté cook. We all like to consider ourselves chef in some way or other. . . . I don't consider myself a true chef until I'm in Dick's position with all that pressure'" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). The line between cook and chef is not always certain. Many American cooks, however, desire to be considered a "chef," with its attendant status, but recognize that the difference lies in more responsibility, rather than in greater creativity or expertise.

7. To some extent this extensive division of labor persists in the best French restaurants. A top New York chef notes: "Take Guerard. He does 65 meals a night with 17 people in the kitchen. In America if you're serving 75, you have six to eight in the kitchen" ("Great French-American Chef's Debate" 1984, p. 19). At La Pomme de Terre, which served 65-75 dinners on weekend nights, only four cooks were on staff. Its owner once explained that what distinguished his establishment from the "best" American restaurants was that it didn't have the manpower to do "the touches"--the little decorative things that made a dinner truly remarkable.

8. One day the Blakemore chef was helping in the pantry area. The following humorous colloquy occurred; the humor is based on the extreme role reversals expressed:

MELISSA, joking to Denver, the chef: Make another special.

DENVER: Yes, ma'am.

MELISSA: Make it correctly this time.

BERNICE, after Denver makes rainbow jello: You do it pretty well.

DENVER, joking: I make the best blue-cheese dressing.

MELISSA: Like your tuna salad.
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

Although Denver had problems with some of his cooks, his pantry workers were much more satisfied, in part because they expected less from him.

9. Most dishwashers at Stan's were young men who worked at the restaurant on a temporary basis to earn money for school.

10. As one cook noted, "It's a thankless task. . . . I just try to buy them a can of pop every now and them. When you say something nice to Ray, he's on top of the world" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). The sense that merely saying a nice word or giving a soft drink is sufficient indicates this patronizing attitude, and it probably is a fairly accurate assessment. break

11. This analysis does not really apply to Stan's, where there were relationships of more equal-status among the cooks, busboys, and dishwashers. At Stan's it was common for a young man to start as a dishwasher, then become a busboy, and then a cook.

12. The gender composition of the serving staff varies by restaurant. In general the higher the status of the restaurant, the more male servers (and cooks and dishwashers)--a rule generalizable to the gender composition of many occupations. At Stan's and the Blakemore, servers were female. At La Pomme de Terre all servers but one were male. At the Owl's Nest about three-quarters of the servers were female. Most servers were young adults, but some older women worked at Stan's and the Blakemore. Servers had widely varying educational backgrounds, but those at La Pomme de Terre were the best educated. In contrast to the common belief that many servers are gay, only two were alleged homosexual (one male and one female) although other Twin Cities restaurants reportedly hire a higher percentage of homosexual servers.

13. Mars and Nicod (1984, pp. 45-47) suggest that tension is more likely to be found in lower-status establishments. My data do not allow me to judge this hypothesis, but on the basis of the information available, it seems supported: there was less tension between cooks and servers at La Pomme de Terre than at Stan's.

14. Such a desire to serve more food is not appropriate everywhere. In fact, at a restaurant such as La Pomme de Terre moderate-sized portions may be considered more appropriate; whereas at the steakhouse and at family restaurants generally, more is better.

15. A large majority of cooks felt that servers should share some portion of their tips, but not all felt this way. One said, "The tip, I think, is considered part of the waitress's wage. I wouldn't take part of somebody else's wage" (Personal interview, Stan's).

16. At La Pomme de Terre servers attempted to downplay personal uncertainty and interpersonal friction by having all servers pool their tips. Otherwise, in this restaurant with few tables and high tabs per customer, a difference in the number of customers could mean substantial differences among the take-home pay of the various servers. Pooling tips avoids this although potentially some servers might shirk work.

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