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Five— The Economical Cook: Organization As Business

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

As soon as experience showed that a well-made ragout was enough to make its inventor's fortune, self-interest, that most powerful of incentives, kindled every imagination and set every cook to work.
—Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Philosopher in the Kitchen

Business organizations cannot be understood as independent islands, as privately constructed worlds of meaning. They belong to a robust economic system. Conditions of political economy influence the doings of workers (Burawoy 1979). For instance, technological change within an industry affects the dynamics of worker interaction, even though workers (or individual entrepreneurs) had little input in the planning and implementation of these changes or their economic impacts (Finlay 1988). De-skilling has profound and surprising consequences on the structure of occupations, increasing some workers' status at the expense of others (Grzyb 1990). For instance, the structural and interorganizational needs of Hollywood production companies channel individual choices and shape the final "artistic" product (Faulkner 1983). These structural alterations influence owners and managers as well as the workers who are supposedly the "victims" of these changes.

The external, industrial constraints under which workers struggle affect their doings and their culture (Prendergast and Knottnerus 1990; Zukin 1989). Behavior cannot be disentangled from the political economy of society, a point recognized by those interested in meaning as well as those concerned with structure (Blumer 1990; Denzin 1977; Farberman 1975). How do restaurants, as service and production units, fit into an economic structure? How can cultural production be made profitable, and how do macrolevel decisions—both those of many small organizations, collectively considered, and decisions of institutional actors—affect personal action?

The Economic Nexus

Restaurants constitute hybrid industrial organizations, a cross between expressive entrepreneurialism and rational economic institutions, increasingly affected by organizational isomorphism (Dimaggio and Powell 1983). These organizations face the structural conditions that Coser, Kadushin, and Powell (1982, p. 7) describe for the publishing industry, suggesting similarities among cultural industries:

(1) The industry sells its products—like any commodity—in a market, but a market that, in contrast to that for many other products, is fickle and often uncertain. (2) The industry is decentralized among a number of sectors whose operations bear little resemblance to each other. (3) These operations are characterized by a mixture of modern mass-production methods and craftlike procedures. (4) The industry remains perilously poised between the requirements and restraints of commerce and the responsibilities and obligations that it must bear as a prime guardian of the symbolic culture of the nation.

As documented in the introduction, the restaurant industry is a significant sector of the economy. Yet, most restaurants have a fragile economic base. Few freestanding restaurants have large profit margins (Miller 1978). As the owner of Stan's joshed, "There is a saying in the restaurant industry, which I think is right, that you lose on every sale, but you make it up on volume" (Field notes). The owner of La Pomme de Terre told me privately that they were "marginally successful"—they made money but not much. He had heard that several of his major competitors were in trouble, and in the next few years several closed. His business manager indicated that their profits were due to low overhead because of their relatively peripheral location, producing a low debt service.

In 1987, the census reported over 300,000 eating places with sales of nearly $150 billion dollars (Statistical Abstracts 1990 , p. 769). What Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin exaggerated in 1825 still applies today: "Gourmandism also has considerable fiscal importance; toll dues, customs duties, and indirect taxes thrive on it. Everything we consume plays tribute, and gourmands are the chief mainstay of every nation's wealth" (1970, p. 134). Despite the economic power of the industry, the mortality rate of restaurants is astounding. According to one report, of the 3,000 restaurants that open in New York City annually, nearly 2,000 fail within a year: "It is estimated that sixty-five percent of the restaurants that open in the city will fail in the first year, largely from three causes: not enough start-up money, squabbling among the operators, and inexperience in selling food for profit. And the restaurants that do succeed tend to last only five years" (Tharp 1980, p. 37; see Bennett 1982). National figures are not this high, but whatever the precise numbers, few restaurants become well established. This trend seemed exacerbated in the recession of the early 1990s, in which many prominent, classic New York French restaurants closed, with only the less expensive, "bistro" type restaurants surviving (Gopnik 1992, p. 128).

By the 1980s, opening a restaurant had become a popular fantasy among some sectors of the upper-middle-class, who hoped to become arbiters of aesthetic taste.[1] Yet, often it was a fantasy that became a nightmare, particularly if the owners hadn't determined the size and character of the potential market niche they were entering. As of 1980, it was estimated that to open a restaurant in New York City one needed $40,000 in start-up costs, or, according to some, enough money to pay expenses for a year (Tharp 1980, p. 38). These costs underline a crucial reality: freestanding restaurants, not tied to chains or corporations, tend to be undercapitalized, in view of the competition and the sometimes unexpected bureaucratic hurdles that state agencies enforce.

When the owner of La Pomme de Terre planned to open a new "superexclusive" restaurant, he negotiated a deal with the developers of the building in which the restaurant would be located: they would provide the capital, so that if the restaurant folded (as it did within a year), he would be protected. They had deeper pockets than he. Since many restaurants are opened by "entrepreneurs," they operate on a financial tightrope for years. Because of the number of competing organizations (12,000 restaurants in New York City alone), substantial profits are unlikely in this highly competitive free market. This financial reality has consequences for how restaurants are structured: to cut losses, rather than to make large profits.

That segment of the hospitality industry that is better capitalized, such as hotel restaurants, tends not to have the problem of immediate bankruptcy, but other problems, such as customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, corporate meddling, and management emphasis on the bottom line, are evident. These organizations cannot easily enlist workers and customers in perfecting the illusion that a restaurant meal is a private dinner party. Corporations, not as caught up in the "romance of a restaurant," tend not to have the commitment to culinary quality of smaller entrepreneurs, unless gourmet dining is the market niche to which they aspire. This suggests a plausible explanation for the lack of large corporations in haute cuisine dining. While some cities have several upscale restaurants with a single owner (the owner of La Pomme de Terre owned three other restaurants in the Twin Cities), these restaurants are typically different in style and rarely do "chains" of upscale restaurants extend beyond a single metropolitan area. Haute cuisine dining is assumed to be a unique experience, an expression of an auteur-chef, rather than a fungible and reproducible experience.

Because of small profits and the difficulty of maintaining stable cash flow (from variable customer loyalty), upscale restaurants have largely remained the province of the small entrepreneur, with hotel restaurants representing the oft-maligned corporate edge of culinary involvement in the industry. Hotels have an important role in the restaurant industry as their financial support of and influence over training centers such as the Culinary Institute of America indicates (Desens 1979, p. 60).[2] Both individual entrepreneurs and large corporations have advantages in their competition.

Restaurants are economic organizations on several dimensions: (1) their attempts to set prices and cope with customer demands on the output boundary; (2) their control of workers, conditions of work, and labor costs; and (3) their attempts to control material costs, the input boundary of the organization.

Prices and Customers

Organizational ecology, a green and charming term for the red tooth and claw of industrial competition, provides a compelling image for the workings of businesses (Hannon and Freeman 1989). The expression reminds us that industrial organizations do not just succeed or fail, but rather they succeed or fail in context . One makes choices in light of the external constraints that one confronts. Decision makers at a restaurant, or other organization, must be aware of what is occurring in social fields that affect its ability to achieve its instrumental and expressive goals.

An organization is part of a "macrointeraction" system, in which the choices each actor selects have an effect on others. Kitchens are only possible because of diners, just as diners are only possible because of kitchens; and both are only possible because of an economic system based on choice of employment and consumption. This linkage of macro- and micro- through mediating processes is what symbolic interactionists refer to as the "meso" level of analysis (Maines 1982).

Customers are judged both by quantity and quality. Whatever the hopes and desires of workers and managers, they shape their products to the preferences of their audiences (e.g., Arian 1971; Martorella 1982; Coser, Kadushin, and Powell 1982, p. 226), who are often more conventional and less sophisticated in taste than producers and may be scorned (Gillon 1981, p. 49). The reality for every restaurant is the number of customers and the size of their checks; without a client base and monetary flow, a restaurant will quickly be bankrupt. Establishments that are adequately capitalized (Miller 1978) can survive slow sales for a while but not forever, particularly when competitors are thriving. Restaurants can manage slow Tuesdays but not many slow Saturdays; slow Januarys but not slow Decembers; slow Independence Days but not slow Mother's Days. One mechanism of control is to request or demand reservations. Management plan their labor needs on estimates of patronage, making the best of a bad lot, since labor costs typically comprise about 30 percent of management expense. For this structural reason cancellations pose a major problem, sufficient that the house manager at La Pomme de Terre calls large parties that do not arrive within thirty minutes of their reservations. Some upscale restaurants now demand a credit card deposit. Staffing the kitchen based on a reservations book can produce strain in the kitchen: "Tonight was a strange night in that there were twenty-five cancellations, or 'no-shows.' This included a table of ten, a table of five, and two tables of four. The owner tells me that cancellations really annoy him, and that people who do not show up or cancel at the last minute 'have no understanding of the restaurant business. . . . We had to send one waiter home tonight.' Cancellations also hurt the take-home pay (tips) of waiters. Cooks tend to be less affected than waiters, but if the turnout is really light, a cook will be sent home early as well" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). When one considers that at this point in the mid-1980s the average check at La Pomme de Terre was about $30–$35, these no-shows have real consequences. Even at the Blake-more and the Owl's Nest, with average checks between $20 and $30, each customer mattered. Stan's had a lower per person check, more turnover, and more walk-in business, so no-shows or cancellations were less critical. Still, they too guessed how many cooks and, especially, servers to schedule.

It is not simply the number of customers but the size of the checks that determines a restaurant's success. A party that orders the cheapest items on the menu, doesn't order appetizers or desserts, and avoids wine will not generate profit, just as consumers who only purchase loss leaders or car buyers who avoid add-ons do not help the bottom line. In contrast, some parties "make" evenings:

One night the Owl's Nest had a party of thirty. Paul informs me: "That ticket's as much as they used to have in a whole night. First night I worked we had thirty people. They told me it was an average night." He estimates that the check for the entire party will be $1,000, but when he learns that almost everyone in the party ordered wine, he increases that estimate to $1,500. He tells me: "A party like that is a good evening, just in itself." They generate more profit for the restaurant than some parties twice as large. This night offsets many slower evenings, giving the owners a cushion, and increasing the likelihood of staff bonuses.
(Field notes)

While the number of customers increased since Paul had taken over, it was below their best years, when this traditional, businessman's continental restaurant was a dominant culinary force—one of the two or three best restaurants in the Twin Cities. The city culture had changed. Mel, a longtime cook, told me that they used to serve several hundred people for lunch whereas when I observed, one hundred at lunch was considered a good day. While weekend evenings were busy, they were not chaotic; one hundred people was considered profitable. One weekday night with sixty-eight customers was considered "a good money night" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). The large party described above was a throwback to the days, a decade earlier, when large groups dined on steak and wine, and when restaurants that provided this in an elegant, if florid, setting were considered haute cuisine. In the mid-1970s, new establishments that were French or nouvelle cuisine or nouvelle American (La Pomme de Terre) emerged, some elegantly muted like La Pomme de Terre. During this time, some old warhorses, like the Owl's Nest, fell out of favor. The New Class had taken over from business elites as culinary tastemakers. Paul emphasized serving fish and seafood, attempting with some success to capture health-conscious customers. This restaurant, which had once made its reputation on its beef, was now serving mostly fish. The organizational ecology and the culture had changed, and the Owl's Nest had changed with it. By the mid-1980s, two other "grand" Twin Cities restaurants had closed.

The number of customers is not important per se, but it is correlated with total spending. While some restaurants—those that focus on high turnover (such as Stan's or the archetypical McDonald's)—are less concerned about the customers they recruit, upscale restaurants aim for a particular target, using customers as part of the ambiance. These establishments typify their customers, both in general strategic discussions and in describing particular parties. La Pomme de Terre attempted to recruit affluent urban professionals—the stereotypical yuppie. These diners had considerable cultural capital in the culinary realm (Bourdieu 1984, pp. 174ff.), having had experience dining at fine restaurants and a "well-developed palate." They also desired "unique" creations; monkfish with peach sauce or basil-cantaloupe sorbet were seen as creative, not merely bizarre. Consuming novel combinations marked one's status. In contrast, the Owl's Nest had less interest in these consumers, and appealed to those who were older, more traditional but equally well-heeled. These diners were no longer wedded to traditional steak, beef, and pork dishes; yet, these items remained on the menu. Female consumers from this group were more likely to order fish than were their male counterparts. These customers lived well but were more likely to stay close to their previous gustatory experiences. The Blakemore, a hotel restaurant in a chain that did not emphasis its cuisine, located in a downtown venue that was deserted in the evening, tended to rely upon hotel guests: businessmen and some families. Decisions—such as the installation of a display kitchen—were made by central management and, perhaps for this reason, never attracted an audience. For the Blakemore the precise number of customers was not critical, because the hotel would always need a restaurant and, hence, cooks. At Stan's the problem of a customer base was less severe, because it was essentially a neighborhood steakhouse, situated in a lower-middle-class community in which there were few other quality restaurants. On a busy Saturday night Stan's could serve over five hundred customers, and there was a continual struggle in the kitchen for three hours to keep up with customer demands. Their clients demanded steak, served without sauce or other fancy treatment. As long as the beef was of high quality, which it was, and priced competitively—about ten dollars each—customers would leave satisfied and return. They had established a profitable market niche that had served them for decades. A few years after this research the restaurant faced a challenge as the local bridge across the Mississippi was closed for two years for repairs. This hurt the restaurant, but the construction encouraged locals to avoid downtown.

Each restaurant had its own targeted market, segmented by age, income, gender, residence, and culture. Within these segments different customers patronized the restaurant at different times. For instance, at Stan's: "Eve, a waitress, describes the Sunday afternoon customers as the 'cardiac crowd.' She noted that these senior citizens typically leave small tips. On Saturday she received $85 in tips but expects half of that on Sunday" (Field notes). While few restaurants are open Sunday afternoon, Stan's profits because its management has selected a target audience that wishes to dine then. At this time they sell fewer steaks; many senior citizens select chicken. One cook notes that "a hamburger, a turkey sandwich, and a roast pork" constitute a typical Sunday order. Their customers affect their cuisine.

The Blakemore profitably caters to prom-night couples, since many high school proms are held at or near the hotel. While the hotel must cope with the challenges of adolescent awkwardness and hormones, the hotel management values those nights although the waiters complain about small tips. In contrast, La Pomme de Terre misses out on prom business. The Owl's Nest finds conventions desirable because these customers order steaks and liquor on their expense accounts and leave big tips. Convention season is profitable for the Owl's Nest but has little effect on Stan's. For the Owl's Nest, being advertised in convention programs is important for business whereas neither Stan's nor La Pomme de Terre is much interested in such promotion. Even though each restaurant has a substantial middle-class appeal, each market niche differs.

Cooks and Customers

The relationship between cooks and customers is complex, mediated by others, notably servers or managers. Yet, despite this mediation, some customers gain the status of "regulars" and become part, however tangentially, of the restaurant community, relied on for the organization's continuing success:

Four years ago the Mitchells discovered Travestierre on 83rd Street [in New York City]. "We really liked it, so we went there seven nights in a row," he says. "By the end of the first year, we had eaten dinner there a hundred times. Now we know the whole family, so when they opened Latanzi's down in the theater district, we started going there too. I like it best when Paolo, my favorite brother, does the cooking. I call up and say, 'Paolo, I am coming over tonight. Save me some porcini mushrooms.'" . . . [Another customer comments,] "Today you are judged by the kind of foie gras you eat and the kind of restaurant gossip you speak. Throughout the ages, the status symbols have changed. There was the library, the swimming pool and the wine cellar. Now it is status to be a personal friend of a threestar chef."
(Morrisroe 1984, pp. 47, 49)

One restaurant critic argues that repeated patronage is necessary to get the best food and service—he speaks of gaining the "home field advantage" (Jacobs 1980, p. 16). At the Owl's Nest a few regular customers are invited back into the kitchen, an honor that servers don't always receive because of tight space. A house captain at La Pomme de Terre speaks for all staff: "After four years we have ever and ever more regulars you treat kinda like friends and kinda like customers. People differ on that. Some like to be called Mister all the time; while with others you can become almost friends. One of the rewards is dealing with regulars" (Field notes; see also Marshall 1986, p. 41). While the primary relationship is between maître d' and customer or server and customer, cooks become aware of regulars through narrative accounts from maître d's, servers, and owners. Keeping a regular happy and returning is a substantial economic benefit for any restaurant. A regular who brings guests can also help generate new regulars.

Once one has established a market niche, change can be precarious. Paul explained that when he was hired at the Owl's Nest, he realized that they had to change but not too rapidly, for fear of losing regulars. He realized that he had to educate these customers to his style of lighter cooking, which he felt could expand their customer base. Yet, for financial reasons, he simply couldn't jettison the old customers. After Paul left the Owl's Nest, his replacement expressed similar goals:

[The new chef] has instituted subtle changes in the award-winning restaurant's tried-and-true favorites, with help from the [Owl's Nest] veteran corps of cooks and servers. "The old way is fine," he told them, "but let's approach it with a new twist." By building trust with both staff and long-time customers, he's made progress. "When a frequent patron would order his usual New York strip, I'd send out two or three sauces—anchovy, green peppercorn—and say, 'See what you think.' By setting up the customers to enjoy the food by having the staff explain and present it properly, you gain their confidence."
(Waldemar 1985, p. 154)

Trust is an important element connecting customers and workers. It becomes an instance of "joint activity" in a market environment (Prus 1989). Service providers must cultivate a sense of closeness, loyalty, and community from those on whom they depend (Bigus 1972). For André Soltner of New York's famed Lutèce the relationship is "like a doctor-patient relationship built on trust" (Burros 1986, p. 23). One chef explained: "When I travel in France and visit my celebrated colleagues, I have great expectations. I never order; I ask the chef what he is going to do for me. Often I would like to tell my guests to please leave their worries with their coats at the door. We like demanding customers, provided they know what they want" (Wechsberg 1980, p. 36). The cost in accepting customer demand is that one gives up a portion of one's hard-won professional authority to those who are less trained (Hughes 1971, p. 346). Yet, the possibility exists of establishing an ideal economic relationship based on mutual respect and friendly regard. This is evident when regulars ask for special dishes without inquiring about the price or when they ask waiters to bring them what is "good" that night. Misused, this could lead to inflated prices and the serving of foods that are not selling—a mild "con" involving fabrication (Goffman 1974), used on some naive customers when management asks servers to "push" a dish. The goal, however sincere the friendly feelings, is to have the customer return and bring others: "A female regular, celebrating her birthday, didn't order dessert, so Davis, a server, puts a small candle in a strawberry and surrounds it with mounds of whipped cream. Davis jokes to me: 'It's the little things we do that keep them coming back for more'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). A reality of many occupations, particularly applicable to cooks, is that workers must please clients who do not share their taste. One frustrated chef fumed: "We have to please everyone. You're at their mercy. [Customers] don't have much taste" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). At Stan's customers are referred to as "assholes" (Field notes).[3]

The establishment of illusory, or "parasocial," relations is required to prevent a sense of alienation. As Lutèce's André Soltner points out, "Between the cook and eater there is an invisible string. He is pleased because I gave him something from me. I want love from my customers" (Burros 1986, p. 23). However, cooks' hopes for respect are often not satisfied because they lack direct ties to customers. To cope with this, several of the restaurants prominently displayed notes from their customers in the kitchen—a means of sharing the compliments that servers hear but that are only indirectly known to cooks, building some measure of loyalty from cooks to those they serve. For instance, a letter posted in the pantry of La Pomme de Terre commented that the meal the writer was served was the best meal that he had ever had. The head chef tells me: "That's what makes it worthwhile" (Field notes). The cook risks his reputation by serving his food to customers (Charpentier and Sparkes 1934, p. 97), and, in turn, he wants respect, esteem, or even love. As one cook explained: "I got into [cooking] because I like people's reactions to eating food. I like to serve people. . . . I still enjoy creating dishes. I very much enjoy talking to people that truly like my cooking" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). The ultimate compliment, a rare one, is receiving a tip directly from a customer. This happened once or twice at La Pomme de Terre and was memorable for the workers involved. The standard mediated economic relations was, for that moment, overturned.

As noted above, some cooks hope to "educate" customers, raising the level of their taste. This is evident in remarks made by the new chef at the Owl's Nest and was an issue at La Pomme de Terre, where the cooks were more adventurous than their customers, who were, admittedly, more adventurous than most. The nineteenth-century chef Escoffier claimed that the cook's first duty is to satisfy customers and the second is to teach them (Sanger 1980, p. 53). These two goals—satisfaction and education—encapsulate the dilemma of cooks as service providers and professionals. This model can be found in all occupations that strive to be role models for their customers—jazz musicians, barbers, gardeners, dental hygienists, and the like.

Routine versus Individual Treatment

Many businesses based on repeat patronage desire to treat their customers as acquaintances—to create the illusion of community, asking employees and managers to know these strangers "personally"—establishing a relationship of loyalty and trust (Bigus 1972; Prus 1989). This model is in direct conflict with that of interactive service establishments such as fast-food chains that strive for fully interchangeable personnel and routinized transactions (Leidner 1993). Personalized treatment increases transaction costs, in contrast to routinized, rationalized treatment that maximizes efficiency. Further, the former provides a measure of autonomy to those who interact with clients. In practice, some customers—those defined as regulars or those designated as "big tippers"—receive special treatment. Restaurants are prestige markets and use special treatment as a means of encouraging the "right" customers to return: "Waiters were reported to 'size up' customers and base their level of service on the anticipated gratuity. . . . [Restaurants] encourage the patronage of businessmen, professionals, the successful, and the affluent. Regularity of patronage may be rewarded through the allocation of good tables, personal courtesy and attention, and the waiving of reservation requirements" (Schiller 1972, p. 137). This special treatment also extends to the food served. In all cases these benefits involve the provisioning of scarce goods. Special treatment requires that not all are entitled to the same public treatment, and so some customers may notice that they are not treated equally. Since restaurants are prestige markets, providing opportunities for conspicuous consumption (Finkelstein 1989), they publicize their clientele as well as their own products. Clients become part of the theater of the restaurant (Shelton 1990), as well as an end in themselves.

Each of the freestanding restaurants made special provision for their best or most favored customers:[4]

The cooks are working on a salmon order when the server returns to the kitchen and tells the cook to "hold on with the salmon. Charles [the owner's son] wants to pick it out." Charles enters the kitchen, explaining "That's my parish priest out there. [He chooses a salmon steak.] Don't overcook it. Don't undercook it." The cooks prepare it very carefully.
(Field notes, Stan's)

One customer always receives special treatment. Cooks prepare a special, large salad with lettuce, carrots, zucchini, and onion. Denny explains: "If we don't give her enough, she'll ask for more, so why not please her the first time." She insists on having half an orange squeezed on her salad, served with a side order of Caesar dressing. Her server reminds Denny: "When you make [her] vegetables, no wine. She just can't have wine. You can put in herbs but just no wine or salt or anything like that." I felt that the cooks were frustrated in having their aesthetic standards compromised, but they make her food as ordered.
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

While special treatment has an instrumental effect in increasing tips, it also benefits the establishment by keeping a regular returning. This preferential treatment is in the interest of the establishment, no matter how much it violates the canons of equality, Similar treatment for all customers would not be justified economically in that the likelihood of their returning is low. One needs a core of clients on whom the economic stability of the restaurant can rest.

Difficult Customers

Just as special customers require stroking because one wishes them to return, difficult customers must be dealt with as well. Here restaurant staff use diplomacy to satisfy these individuals and in extreme cases decide whether to "cool them out" or to be willing to lose their business. Diplomacy is key to handling "troublesome" customers because of the belief that the way in which disruptions are handed can affect repeat patronage (Prus 1989). Tact is necessary not just for that customer but because a complaining customer becomes the center of attention. Thus, even though management may believe that it is right, it often accedes to the demands to create a loyal and compliant client and to demonstrate publicly to all present that they are reasonable. Complaints, properly handled, can be good business.

Cooks, of course, don't see the situation as it develops; they often have to solve a problem, relying on the server's narrative to describe its character and the type of person involved. When the culinary quality is at issue, cooks have no authority to defend themselves. They must accept the decision of the server or manager. Servers and managers must be diplomatic toward the customers and the cooks if they are to remain on good terms with everyone. Since servers are not always diplomats and their immediate loyalty lies with the tipping customer, it is not surprising that cooks can vent their rage against fellow workers, in lieu of attacking the ignorant customer.[5]

The easiest solution to a culinary dispute is simply to recook food according to the customer's taste or to present something different. Cooks must grin and bear the insult to their food and what it implies about their competence. Servers assuage the temper of the cooks by boisterously demeaning the same customers with whom they are schmoozing in the dining room. The friction seemed particularly intense at Stan's Steakhouse, where customers were not well enough socialized or lacked cultural capital to treat cooks as professionals, simultaneously defining themselves as competent judges:

One customer is served a shrimp salad and refuses it because the tiny shrimp are not deveined. Robin, her waitress, tells Doug, the head chef, that "we don't have deveined shrimp. She doesn't want them. Pfft." Charles, the owner's son, asks Beatrice, who is working in the salad area, to see if the shrimp are peeled and deveined. She does check, although she is not pleased about the request, and reports that "there's nothing wrong about it. It's peeled. It isn't deveined, but that's just a little bit of black in there. It's always like that." Robin explains: "That lady almost had a coronary." Charles comments that "you'd have to use a microscope." Robin tells Charles that "she wanted me to pick all of the shrimp off and replace it with chicken. I told her we're out of chicken. That's not sanitary." Charles ends the discussion by telling Beatrice: "Would it help if I told you she was pregnant?" His sexist remark is taken to mean that management supported the kitchen staff, and the incident is closed, although nasty remarks are made all day.
(Field notes, Stan's)

Robin had a problem with a woman at lunch today who was "a bitch . . . a biddy." She ordered the same steak as her friend, but she felt that the two steaks were cooked differently and differed in size. Robin reports: "She said, 'I'll learn enough to bring people in here at lunch' . . . I'd like to throw her out the door." Robin supports Lew, who cooked the steak, and comments that the woman is a troublemaker. The owner instructs her to take a dollar off the woman's check.
(Field notes, Stan's)

The restaurant staff, including management, must demonstrate collective solidarity, however they might feel privately. These "unreasonable" attacks from customers cause workers to cohere. I never heard servers attack cooks for their errors, but they frequently berated customers.

Negative Special Treatment

On rare occasions cooks attempt to sabotage the dinners of difficult diners. The narrative from chapter 4 in which a customer's sausage was supposedly dipped in urine is an extreme instance of backstage revenge. Spitting into a customer's soup is not unknown if a cook is frustrated and feels that he can get away with it (Orwell 1934). Typically, cooks prepare dishes in a sloppy or inadequate fashion as retaliation:

Maggie, a server, comes back into the kitchen really annoyed and tells Gene about an order of top sirloin: "I want you to split these tops. I want small ones. Those people don't deserve them. I told them they couldn't split them, but they insisted on them." Gene finds the smallest tops he can.
(Field notes, Stan's)

Steffi tells the cooks that a steak has been returned: "Can you put this on more. He says it's not well-enough done. What can I say?" Charles, the owner's son, adds: "We got a real bitcher out there. Cook the hell out of it. What the hell."
(Field notes, Stan's)

The problem at Stan's, more than the other restaurants, is that customers at a steakhouse believe that they have the legitimate right to complain about how steaks are cooked. As a high volume restaurant, the patronage of any given customer is not critical for their economic survival, and as a result, cooks need not care as much about repeat patronage. When a request that is perceived as unreasonable is coupled with a hectic, frustrating evening, sabotage is possible.

Since food preparation occurs behind closed doors, cooks have the opportunity to perform depredations with the customer none the wiser. Their expressive acts never become public; the food is presented as "normal," prepared "as requested." In principle, customers have little bargaining power except for their tips and the possibility of their return. Once a complaint has been made, restaurant staff may believe that these customers will not tip or return, thus, reducing the customer's bargaining power further. Fortunately for customers, the moral dignity of these workers is usually sufficient to stay the bitter hand of revenge.

In fact, customers are the source of a restaurant's success. Creating a market niche, positive relations, and a reputation are crucial for survival. To survive, establishments must assume that their potential customers are a mass and must be able to reach those they do not personally know, through mass media outlets and word of mouth through urban networks. While organizational success is based on the sum of idiosyncratic decisions, these decisions can be predictable in some measure from structural and cultural features. Each restaurant has a strategy for survival that may be implicit but is operationalized through customer recruitment and media relations.

Media Relations

Perhaps because they are small businesses competing in a highly differentiated market, none of the three freestanding restaurants I observed advertised widely. They had signs outside—a modest form of point-of-sale publicity—and they paid for notices in city magazines and restaurant guides. The Blakemore Hotel placed advertisements throughout the hotel but did little beyond this to encourage customers to dine. These businesses are too small to make radio, television, or billboards wise investments. These restaurants waited for customers to find them through word of mouth or free media notice. Since Stan's, the Owl's Nest, and La Pomme de Terre were all relatively successful establishments, with the first two in operation for decades and the third for nearly a decade, customers had found them. Yet, the lack of control over their reputation proved to be a continual threat.

Industries are linked, serving each other's interests. By the 1970s, the mass media had learned that food news is popular, and by working with restaurants, they could publish features that draw readers. For some restaurants—those that hope for a sophisticated, metropolitan clientele—a good review stimulates business and can "make" a restaurant, bringing a flood of customers (Hall 1985, p.1). For instance, at La Pomme de Terre the owner had been concerned about appointing Tim head chef, while still in his early twenties. Shortly after his appointment a glowing review in the Minneapolis Tribune , suggesting that the restaurant was the best in the Twin Cities, indicated that the choice was successful, and patronage increased (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Later a weekly entertainment guide named their poorly attended Sunday brunch as the best in the Twin Cities, an announcement that brought great cheer to the kitchen. Before that review the management had been thinking of eliminating the brunch because of low attendance. Business picked up temporarily; but even reviews have their limits, and later the brunch was ended.

Feature stories also affect sales, and chefs may agree to provide recipes when asked by newspapers or magazines, even if they must recreate recipes that were never written down or alter those otherwise impossible to prepare at home. Stan's received a boon—a mixed blessing for the cooks—when a television magazine show featured the restaurant. Viewers were told that for the next week, if they mentioned the feature, they could receive a discount on certain steaks. That weekend the restaurant was flooded with over six hundred customers. To keep the kitchen under control, all steaks had to be ordered medium. Charles, the owner's son, explained that with the discount, they barely broke even on the cost of the meal and, therefore, were losing money, but he valued the television exposure and would gladly repeat it, believing that the restaurant would gain returning customers.

Just as good reviews help, negative reviews can be painful:

For years the Coach House restaurant was awarded four stars—the highest rating—by the New York Times' food critic. Then one Friday early last year the paper published a scathing review that found fault with nearly every aspect of the restaurant. . . . "We had 186 reservations for that night," recalls

Leon Lianides, who has owned the restaurant for 35 years. "Eighty people didn't show up. They didn't even call." In the weeks that followed, patronage at the Coach House fell about 50%.
(Hall 1985, p. 1)

The gain or loss of a Michelin star is a momentous occasion, whose repercussions are financial but also devastating to the honor of the chef. . . . in 1966 the owner of a Parisian restaurant which lost both of its Michelin stars in a single year committed suicide.
(Clark 1975, p. 204)

These are bitterly extreme examples to be sure, but the economic consequence of a widely read unfavorable review provokes sympathy for the restaurateur who wishes to kill the critic, extracting revenge for destroying his or her livelihood.

Critics, and media reports in general, perform a "gatekeeping" role. With an abundance of businesses in the same industry arena, customers search for some basis on which to select. Word of mouth is important, but this publicity depends on the activity of some customers who have already tried the restaurant. While restaurants can generate their own publicity, the main institutional basis by which the public learns of a restaurant is through the media. This applies most dramatically in the world of elite establishments, although a similar process operates in local markets. Elite critics become tastemakers, just as critics influenced the acceptance of abstract expressionism in the New York art world (Wolfe 1976; Guilbaut 1984). In the culinary world this process is most clearly demonstrable in the acceptance of nouvelle cuisine in France: "Most credit for the success of the Nouvelle Cuisine must go to Henri Gault and Christian Millau, whose support for the adventurous chefs and the gusto with which, in the columns of their annual guide and monthly magazine, they are prepared to lampoon any restaurant which is both reactionary and bad, has enabled the new philosophy to filter down from the rarified atmosphere of the great restaurants to the general public" (Gillon 1981, p. 11). Gael Greene, the restaurant critic for New York magazine, argued that a handful of powerful New York critics popularized spicy Chinese food: "About 10 or more years ago, Szechuan become very important to New York. . . . It was the passion of [food critic] Craig Claiborne and [New York magazine's] underground gourmet, who was the combination of Milton Glaser and the late Jerome Snyder. The passion of those three for very spicy food developed an extraordinary following for Szechuan cooking" (Winegar 1985, p. 18). Of course, trends ratified by elite critics may be too expensive, unusual, or spicy for consumers, who want the illusion that they are patronizing the "hot" new restaurants (Finkelstein 1989). As a result, some restaurateurs find a market niche by taming these new cuisines so their middle-brow customers will feel they are getting the experience while consuming palatable food. Cultural innovation has been modified for a mass audience.

The process that occurs in elite venues is also evident in local markets. To a degree, the restaurants found in a particular area will be a function of local critics. Minneapolis had critics with adventurous and sophisticated palates, and perhaps for this reason Minneapolis's restaurant scene expanded during the 1980s from its sleepy senescence of the decade before. In contrast, without adventurous or sophisticated critics—without any regular critic for much of the decade—St. Paul never did develop a viable restaurant market. While other explanations might be given, the fact that Minneapolis critics were more likely to review and praise Minneapolis restaurants, and the reality that most of their readers resided in that Twin City, influenced the two restaurant communities by affecting audience knowledge.

From one perspective the critic has a duty to develop a culinary audience, indirectly increasing the number of restaurants from which the critic can choose, because the audience's increased interest in dining out has led to a larger number of patrons of new restaurants (Fine and Ross 1984). Since critics are also read by restaurant management who complain vociferously if they receive a negative review, perhaps hurting a publication's advertising, a strong push operates in local markets, such as the Twin Cities, to write something favorable about most establishments, particularly those owned locally. Criticism of national chains seems to come more easily.

Yet, critics, like cooks, see their task to educate the public. Before Craig Claiborne joined the New York Times in 1957, restaurant reviews were linked to the newspaper's advertising and promotion department (Buckley 1982, p. 46). By developing a culinary discourse and rating restaurants, Claiborne helped to change that. The food revolution of the 1970s spread culinary discourse from New York to the hinterlands (Hanke 1988) as restaurant food became a "prestige good" and knowledge of cuisine became part of cultural literacy for young urban professionals (Zukin 1991). The creation of a shared discourse may be integral to the establishment of legitimate occupations and stable organizations.

The mass media is integral to the organizational environment in which restaurants compete and, by affecting the success of a restaurant, has an effect on the lives and positions of kitchen workers. Positive notice creates a buoyant kitchen, whereas criticism affects not only the bottom line but also the relations within the kitchen as blame must be assigned and changes must be plotted.

The Internal Structure of Restaurants

The Dynamics of Pricing

A key element in choosing and competing in a market niche is pricing. Consumers of any product or service wish to know how much they will be charged. In the case of restaurants and many other enterprises, no "fair" price exists. Prepared food has substantial price elasticity, although in any market niche there are expectations of what price is reasonable. Thus, a "steak" might sell for anywhere from $5.00 to $25.00. While there are differences in quality and quantity of the meat—the accompaniments, the atmosphere, and the skill of the preparers—a steak is essentially a steak. Chefs, in conjunction with managers, must decide how much to charge for a particular product. While occasionally the chef will "cost out" the dish, trying to keep food costs near 30 percent, a magical figure, these calculations are approximate. I observed little discussion or computation of how "specials" should be priced. Typically prices are selected off the "top of the head."

Restaurant management must price a dish in a range so that customers can afford it and will find the price legitimate. This means that the price of some dishes can be set much higher than their cost, while others are set lower because of customer expectations. Chicken will typically be priced less than beef, because beef is considered culturally more valuable than chicken. A fair price is not an objective measure of the cost of the dish but of its perceived value—its use value. For example, the Blakemore, more careful than most about calculations of cost, attempts to price its dishes so that the average food cost is 31 percent, but items are treated very differently. Rack of lamb, even though it is one of the most expensive items on the menu, has a food cost of 65 percent; while chicken Oscar, a much less expensive item, has a food cost of 27 percent. The diner who wants his or her money's worth should choose the rack of lamb, a dish on which the hotel loses money. The server will not object, in that to the client the cost of the lamb is higher than that of the chicken, and the tip should be higher. Management and chefs who receive a bonus for minimizing food costs feel that servers should push the chicken—the lamb is a "loss leader." Management depends on the organizational loyalty of the servers through their "salesmanship" to insure that not many loss leaders are ordered, even though servers are not formally critiqued on their orders. At one point the chef was forced to return to his suppliers an order of racks of lamb that cost eleven dollars each, because the dish had a total food cost above 100 percent. He found cheaper lamb of poorer quality (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel).

Restaurants generally keep prices on the menu within a modest spread between some higher- and lower-priced dishes. They decrease the spread between the dishes that cost more to make and those that cost less, lowering the prices of the most expensive items and increasing the prices of the least expensive items. Paul, the head chef at the Owl's Nest, explained to me that all dishes need to be priced similarly, and so meats may sell at a loss; however, this is balanced by the higher profit margins for some fish. Some popular dishes pose economic problems: "The ivory salmon I'm losing my butt on, but I'm making it up on other items. . . . I should charge $35 for the ivory salmon. Since I need $25 to break even, I need to make it up on other items." Most vegetables are inexpensive and are not often considered in the financial equation (Field notes, Owl's Nest).

Because many dishes at La Pomme de Terre are specials and are off the menu, they are priced daily. When the restaurant served an appetizer of fresh chanterelles with marsala in puff pastry, the chef explained that he will maintain his 35 percent food cost. He uses only three ounces of chanterelles in each appetizer, which sells for $8. These mushrooms were purchased on the spur of the moment from one of his distributors. After they prepare the appetizer, they use some of the remaining mushrooms in veal leg with sliced chanterelles, for which they charged the high price of $21.50. The leftover mushrooms are used for a chanterelle omelette at lunch and for a Perigueux sauce. By using every mushroom piece and pricing dishes accordingly, the chef can recoup the nearly $100 per case that the mushrooms cost. La Pomme de Terre relies on a clientele that accepts the price elasticity of food costs; yet, even at this restaurant, dishes were never priced at over $25.00, which would have been defined as beyond the legitimate range of what food should cost in this market in the mid-1980s.

While it is nearly impossible for customers to negotiate with servers on the cost of particular dishes, restaurants negotiate the price of a banquet. Each restaurant has a banquet or party service, and the prices of meal service are set directly with customers. Costs depend on the size and status of the party, whether the restaurant is busy, and the clout of the customer. Once the price has been arranged, the chef must minimize his labor and food costs to make a profit. While restaurants such as the Blakemore may have a price list, in fact, arrangements are flexible in practice. The price list is only a guideline, a maximum, for negotiation. As one Blakemore cook told me, "Obviously many other places have better food than we have. . . . [Management has to] say, 'Why don't you bring your party of fifty in, and we can give you a deal'" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel).

Cooks and managers believe that "reasonably" priced items—whatever that means in a particular context—sell well. Thus, the Owl's Nest sells a lot of liver—perhaps surprising to the legions of liver haters—because it's one of the cheapest items on the menu.

For restaurants that have many customers, one technique to increase or stabilize profits is to raise the profit on each individual dish. Stan's, strained to capacity on weekend nights, raised prices, increasing each item by fifty cents. The owner's son, commenting on the over six hundred customers they had one night, explains: "Our prices are too low. Our food is good, but it's not that good" (Field notes, Stan's). The cost of a meal, over time, controls the flow of customers, in management's attempt to obtain an optimal number for efficient operation and maximal profit.

Obviously, the income of restaurants reflected in the number of customers and the amplitude of their checks reveals only half the picture. This income is only meaningful in comparison with the costs incurred. Two restaurants with the same income may vary greatly in success. Restaurants must deal with three classes of financial obligations: fixed costs, labor costs, and food costs, leaving enough room for a profit margin, usually set between five and ten percent.

Fixed Costs

Each restaurant has its own equation of fixed costs, depending on its location, equipment, debt service, and rent or mortgage. The business manager of La Pomme de Terre claimed that they could survive financially because of modest overhead costs. They were located on the ground floor of a condominium in a residential area, away from downtown, popular with young urban professionals, near an art museum and theaters. While this area was not quite "gentrified," it was home to gentry. Their overhead was manageable. As the business manager pointed out, "If we had to pay the debt service of some of those places downtown, we could never have made it" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). For many freestanding restaurants, bankers are the silent partners.

Place and the costs associated with space become essential to the cultural meaning and recruitment of clientele (Zukin 1991). Significantly, the three freestanding restaurants I observed were located away from both the central business district and the most exclusive residential areas. La Pomme de Terre is located in an artistic, cultured area, permitting its location to be a part of the consumption experience. The Owl's Nest is located, as it has been for twenty years, on a major industrial and down-at-the-heels business thoroughfare, which makes obtaining a dinner crowd challenging. Stan's, a neighborhood restaurant, is situated on a main commercial street in a lower-middle-class residential area. Place influences consumption and audience. Selecting a relatively inexpensive location permits upper-middle-class individuals without investing large amounts of their own capital to obtain financing to open their own restaurants. A banker's choice to finance such an enterprise depends, of course, on his or her own financial balance sheets and estimates of the potential market.

A frequent tactic of restaurateurs to reduce expenses is to purchase the space of a restaurant that went out of business. In this way, one can obtain the equipment needed for a restaurant at a bargain. Once a space becomes a restaurant, it is likely to remain one. Yet, this pattern shows that some owners have ignored the reality that some establishments have failed because of location, not incompetence or lack of potential diners.

The internal space of a restaurant can be as important as its external place. As described in chapter 3, conflict often erupts around the quality of equipment. Management desires to limit costs, and cooks desire to cook well and easily. The choice of what kitchen equipment to purchase is tied to each goal; it is sometimes dictated by bankers' limits as well as chefs' preferences. The cooks at La Pomme de Terre and the Owl's Nest wanted new stoves, but management continually postponed that decision. Many restaurant kitchens are not air-conditioned because management is not convinced that this major expense would improve efficiency or food quality. The benefits and the costs are not seen as linked. A minor, but still troubling, dispute at La Pomme de Terre was the head chef's desire to have the owner pay for his cook's uniforms, which cost thirty-two dollars each. The chef told me that a uniform is worn out within six months, and that cooks let the uniforms become tattered to avoid the replacement cost. His solution was to let the bills slip through, so that the restaurant does, in fact, pay for the cook's uniforms, although how long that will continue is uncertain. La Pomme de Terre, in contrast to the Owl's Nest, paid for cooks' knives. In each restaurant the responsibilities and rights of cooks were negotiated and sedimented into routine practice, sometimes through union contract but other times informally among the cooks, chef, and management.

Labor Costs

All restaurants are staffed—otherwise, why go out to eat? But how many people are needed and at what salary? Historical and economic circumstances bring changes not only in technology but also in the size of a workforce, depending on the needs of diners for what service symbolizes. For instance, a minor effect of the French Revolution was that nobles let most of their kitchen staff go, leaving others to work in the increasingly popular public restaurants (Willan 1977, p. 134).

At each restaurant in which the head chef has budgetary authority over labor (among those I observed, all except Stan's), he must decide how to allocate his budget. While there is no fixed limit on labor costs, chefs realize that if they are under budget, they will receive a substantial bonus. Thus, their personal interest diverges from that of their cooks. In general, labor costs should be less than food costs. For instance, at the Blakemore Hotel the chef tried to keep the labor costs of the cooks to about 10 percent of the restaurant and banquet service income.

Immediately prior to my observations the Blakemore Hotel had experienced layoffs. The popular sous chef and two or three other workers had been terminated, and cooks were concerned that others might follow because of poor business. The restaurant was not generating sufficient income, and management attempted to balance their budget by trimming labor costs. By the end of my observation, although the restaurant was still not attracting customers, the budget was balanced, and no further layoffs were threatened. With fewer workers, more convenience foods were used. One cook justified his restaurant's use of instant mashed potatoes by commenting: "Instant potatoes will come in handy if you don't have the help. If you want to run everything fresh, then you need that help. That's another big, major problem of restaurants. There's never enough help" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). The control of labor costs affects the cuisine, reflecting once again the linkages between economic choices, work lives, and consumption choices. Reducing labor, leaving a thin line between adequate performance and incompetence, can produce failure. Cooks expressed frustration—and sometimes grim satisfaction—that cutbacks had affected the food quality:

Dana relays the "disaster" with the deli platter yesterday: "We were late as usual. They had Ezra do these platters, and he had never done them before, and they looked like garbage." She claimed too few competent cooks were employed. She described herself as totally overwhelmed. She said that originally Kate was the baker, but now she is, and she is also supposed to prepare soups and vegetables, a division of labor that she describes as "sick. . . . If I had to do the soups and the special and the bread, that would be OK, but I can't do that and the banquets. . . . I'm leaving [today] with no chili for tomorrow. Like today, it's nonstop. They expect you to work overtime, then they don't pay you. . . . They don't say thank you or anything. It's sick."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

While Dana is particularly bitter, her complaints exaggerate the frustrations of others. Management works cooks as hard as possible while keeping wages low. Cooks do work overtime willingly without pay (see chapter 2), but this can lead to the perception that employers use them, particularly in the absence of a strong community.

In addition to reducing the size of the workforce, restaurants are notorious for paying cooks low wages. Obviously, the "proper" wage is a matter of debate, as it is for all occupations. During the period in which I observed (1982–1983), the average annual wage for a head chef was approximately $30,000,[6] with the average starting hourly wage set at about $6.00, rising to $9.00 to $10.00 for more experienced cooks. A 1984 analysis suggested that chefs earn from $18,000 to $45,000, with a starting salary for cooks (in the form of hourly wages) from $9,000 to $12,000 (Chronicle Occupational Brief 1984, p. 2). A chef in the Twin Cities is a middle-class occupation, but other cooks receive working-class wages. Because most cooks are paid hourly, restaurants trim labor costs by sending cooks home, telling them not to come in, or simply shortening the number of hours that they are there while demanding the same output. For instance, Jon was asked to arrive at the Owl's Nest at noon, instead of 11:30 A.M. I asked Jon why the chef made this change: "He wants to see if I can get the same work done in half an hour less time, or [he says jokingly] he thought my last paycheck was too big. . . . or [he adds more seriously] business is slacking off" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). An alternate approach, practiced by the Blakemore, is to close the dining room early. If no additional reservations are on the book, the Blakemore closes the dining room thirty minutes ahead of schedule, cutting labor costs, even though they may lose customers.

From the standpoint of management—including those chefs who receive a bonus for keeping labor costs under budget—the more they can produce with less labor, the better. This economic reality must be balanced against the social reality that by cutting too much, as happened at the Blakemore, they can lose the sense of community, loyalty, and willingness to work diligently or provide overtime voluntarily. Labor process theory can be pushed too far, ignoring the subjective, emotional commitments of workers even in the face of management control and low wages.

Some restaurants fail because management is unwilling to hire until business improves, not realizing that the food will never reach the necessary quality without sufficient staff:

I [was hired] at the Ramada Inn. Little did I know that I was the only cook that would be [there] at night. I was the night chef basically. I was the only one in the kitchen. There was nobody around, nobody under me, just the food and beverage manager was up in his office. So you'd have a banquet of two hundred people plus [that] you'd have to dish and serve while you're feeding everybody in the restaurant. . . . There was no one else working the line, and the orders are coming in, and you'd have to stop everything, catch up a little bit, go back. [The food and beverage manager] didn't want to hire anybody else because we have to get the business going in order to be able to hire someone else. We were trying to tell him the business isn't going to get going, because you don't have anybody else.
(Personal interview, Owl's Nest)

Perhaps the food and beverage manager decided that no matter what he did, the business was not going to improve enough to hire another person, and so his concern was to balance the budget with fewer expenses.

Low wages are integral to the economic structure of cultural organizations to keep these luxury goods priced at a point that consumers are willing to pay for them (Phizachlea 1990). Even haute cuisine restaurants in New York minimize labor costs (e.g., Claiborne 1982, p. 144).

One technique, common throughout commerce, is to replace well-paid, experienced workers with low-paid, inexperienced ones:

It sometimes happens that a young [worker] who has started as a dishwasher and has learned the skills of the cook actually replaces an older cook, the younger forcing out the older by his willingness to work for a lower wage.
(Herman 1978, p. 42)

[The previous chef had been replaced.] In the company I was the only obvious choice, but he [the owner] could've gone outside too. To get an experienced chef is fairly expensive, and his operation was a little bit questionable at that time, but I think he made a very wise move, just speaking from a third-person point of view. I think he made a wise move in choosing me, 'cause he could get me cheap, and I knew what was going on.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

This choice, critical for the restaurant's survival, was based on the reality that Tim, the sous chef, could be hired cheaply. Fortunately, this decision contributed to the restaurant's aesthetic growth, but it was based on its economic survival. Labor costs set a firm reality, demanding a level of customer patronage and a sufficient profit per customer.

Food Costs

Food is the raw materal of the culinary industry. Even for restaurants that maintain their own gardens, such as Berkeley's Chez Panisse, food is not free and must be priced "realistically." To examine the food industry thoroughly requires a global analysis (Bryant et al. 1985, pp. 243-324). The food that Americans consume are produced throughout the world, and consumers rely on the efficiency and economic choices of multinational producers such as United Fruit or Castle and Cook, and their distributors, to revel in the culinary choices that they insist upon (Enloe 1989). The demand for food choices by diners connects the small freestanding restaurant to the world economy. Political instability, global weather patterns, and ecological alterations—all affect what is served, as when coffee or oranges are suddenly perceived as too expensive, causing changes in menus or in the quality of products served. Or, alternatively, when new foods come on the market at reasonable prices, cuisine changes. The coming of truffle farming and cultivated morel mushrooms will soon alter gourmet dining. As I describe in chapter 6, in discussing the constraints on culinary aesthetics, food costs, influenced by conditions far distant from the restaurant, affect aesthetic production. Food costs, chained to the political economy, are a reality that is central to kitchen life.

On occasion chefs attempt to negotiate with purveyors, but this was relatively rare. In practice, each trusted the other, and I was surprised that typically when orders arrived, they were not checked. This trust may not always be warranted, and one purveyor, in the midst of a labor dispute with the Teamsters, delivered beef tenderloin instead of rib-eye steaks. The problems that one organization has with another may infect its relations with a third, influencing its economic and moral standing. Restaurants exist within a web of interorganizational relationships that have consequences for organizational survival.

Chefs compared distributors to gain better prices or quality; each restaurant I observed used several purveyors and switched on occasion. Purveyors know, as do restaurants, that by providing an overly expensive or substandard product or by not delivering as promised, they might be paid once, but since the market is competitive, there is no certainty of further patronage. This problem, of course, is not unique to restaurants, but purveyors have comparable relations with their suppliers. While restaurants are looking for stability and positive relations in their dealings with food providers, they know that there are others to whom they can turn. In the Twin Cities several dozen food wholesalers compete for restaurant business, not counting purveyors from outside the area; restaurants also had the possibility of purchasing directly from farmers, farmers' markets, and grocery stores.

In addition to negotiating with purveyors, restaurants employ several strategic techniques to control costs: illusion, downgrading, reusing, and reducing. Each links the economic needs of the organization for survival with issues of impression management. For these techniques to be successful, they must be limited to the backstage, for otherwise customers would feel cheated, even if it could be argued that they are being treated fairly.


One way in which food costs can be reduced—a technique that borders on unethical behavior and sometimes crosses it—is to serve one item as another. A particularly dramatic challenge, one vigorously denied, was made by a chef visiting the grand New York haute cuisine palace Lutèce: "He examines Lutèce's coquelet à la crème aux morilles. 'It's juicy and good,' he says. 'It isn't squab. It's Cornish hen, you know—Frank Perdue. There has been a certain sacrifice of quality for volume. Prices are higher. Rents are higher. I mean, the guy's a businessman.' . . . If you're supposed to have truffles or morels or cockscomb and you cheat—that's reprehensible" (McPhee 1979, p. 88). This was also evident in one Twin Cities restaurant that was supposed to use truffles in its dishes but used "artificial" truffles instead. There were no complaints. Fortunately, no consumer advocate exposed its secret.


Different brands vary in quality and cost. Each restaurant must select the quality of the products it will serve. If a restaurant cooks with wine, does the vintage or vineyard really matter? Can anyone tell? Isn't the final taste the criterion? But suppose the taste is affected; how much of a difference is too much? In some sense, the answer depends on the market—will customers return? However, customers rarely make decisions to return on a single comestible (steak and wine are exceptions); and even if they do, they rarely announce it. Every restaurant must compromise between the ideal and the economic reality, and this reality is linked to its perceptions of the market niche.

To survive is to attempt to save money when possible, using "downgraded" products—even if using them does not by itself deceive the customer. An excellent gourmet restaurant like La Pomme de Terre chooses to purchase the cheapest salt, plastic wrap, and even pecans, assuming that the difference in taste is not noticeable, but the difference in price would be. The chef at La Pomme de Terre struggled to decide the proper mix of cheap and expensive coffee to include in their after-dinner mix, finally selecting five parts expensive coffee mixed with three parts cheap coffee (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). The Owl's Nest has always had brussels sprouts and hash on the menu, but as these are not popular (ordered perhaps once a month); they are never fresh but merely defrosted when needed. Likewise, when mold is found on artificial truffles, it is merely trimmed, and the truffle chopped and served (Field notes, Owl's Nest). The higher the cost of the foodstuff, the more likely it will be served, no matter its quality. Too much has been invested to let taste determine use. The cheaper the food, the more likely it will be perfect.

These decisions also affect how dishes are prepared. Cheap ingredients are often used in place of relatively more expensive ones.

When Gordon has to make cherry cobbler, he asks Denver, the head chef, about using butter:

GORDON: Can I use melted butter?

DENVER: With what?

GORDON: With the cobbler.

DENVER: Use shortening.


DENVER: All the butter will do is make it a little richer.
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

This discussion was perhaps a little more explicit than usual, but cooking decisions regularly depend on such choices. This does not mean that the cheapest will always be used, but it is always an option—the best choice in the absence of compelling reasons.

Food that is prohibitively expensive is likely to be dropped from the menu when an alternative is judged equal. La Pomme de Terre changed from serving sparkling water to noneffervescent water because of cost, and it used to offer a complimentary chocolate truffle after dinner but eliminated that touch for economic reasons. Likewise, a restaurateur notes a change in his menu for reasons of cost: "We have to be bottom-line conscious these days. You can't make money serving lobster . . . and swordfish isn't much cheaper. So we look at the lowly sea bass and try to make something of it" (Demerest 1980, p. 87). Menus and recipes respond to marketplace costs. As demand increases—for example, for the once-scorned redfish—prices change, and blackened redfish is more costly as a result, with the possibility of overfishing that "trash fish." Supply curves affect price as well, as when shrimp or snail farms decrease the cost of these formerly luxury items.


One effective way to reduce food costs is to insure that nothing goes to waste. As some say about farmers' use of hogs—everything is used but the oink. Leftovers reflect "poor management," guessing wrong about the demands of customers and not being able to use the remaining food. In discussing pricing I described the number of dishes into which La Pomme de Terre was able to incorporate chanterelle mushrooms, thereby increasing the price of each. Tim, the head chef, was particularly proud of the fact that he used the remaining pieces of chanterelles, just turning brown, in a beautiful, delicious, and expensive mushroom tart, which he proudly announced is "all made from leftovers" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Creating specials using leftover food is common but sometimes sneered at: "Howie asked me what I would eat if I dined at La Pomme de Terre. I tell him probably the specials. Diane agrees, 'I'd order the specials. That's what the chef wants to cook.' Howie adds sarcastically: 'That's what the chef wants to get rid of. I was talking to the chef at La Tortue, and he was telling me that the special was veal tips en croûte . Who would want to eat frozen veal tips'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). While I did not observe uneaten chili or soup thrown back into the pot, bread was occasionally reused, as were condiments. Restaurants refilled half-used bottles of ketchup and steak sauce (Field notes, Stan's), a technique well known by bartenders who marry half-empty bottles, sometimes mixing cheap liquor in more prestigious bottles, so the prestige of the label can rub off on the alcohol.

Reselling cooked items that didn't sell is common. One night La Pomme de Terre served beef Wellington as a special. However, only two orders were sold; the other six were sold for lunch at $10.50, rather than the $16.50 at dinner. Had it not sold at lunch, it would have been used for the employees' meal.

When La Pomme de Terre purchases lobster, they may use most of the meat for a dish (e.g., lobster Navarin with mussels), the remaining shreds of meat for a bisque, and the shells for a stock. In fact, the employees meal is often transformed leftovers—hamburgers made from the end pieces of pork and beef tenderloin (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Rendered fat is used for french fries or broth (Field notes, Owl's Nest and La Pomme de Terre). Restaurants use everything, diminishing purchases, but they avoid, in most cases, serving food that has gone "bad" to unsuspecting customers.


The final technique is among the simplest: serve less food or reduce food inventory. The former reduces one's cost directly, the latter indirectly by decreasing up-front costs.

Few restaurants explicitly promise customers the amount of food they will receive. Obviously, if a customer is promised a quarter pounder, a dozen oysters, or a sixteen-ounce steak, restaurants have to deliver or come sufficiently close so that the customer can't discover the fraud. More often customers are told that they will get a "jumbo" steak or a "heaping" platter of fries, but what does this mean in practice? When budgets are tight, it may mean that they will receive less than they had received the week before.

Sometimes the amount of food is explicitly set by management; in others it is a matter of judgment and is negotiated in practice:

Bruce is cutting steaks from a big piece of meat, but he is not certain how large they should be. He asks a fellow cook: "What are we cutting our Queens [steaks] at? Twelve [ounces]?" Although the cook he asks is not certain, they decide to cut the steaks at twelve ounces.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Jon asks Bruce if he should use seven or eight shrimp for the sautéed shrimp. Bruce tells him: "Use eight, they're smaller."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

This concern with food costs sometimes appears unseemly, and cooks rarely criticize others but use humor as a form of social control (Sacks 1974): "Tim, the head chef, jokes with Howie, his sous chef, about the number of scallops Howie puts on the plate, commenting: 'Boy, you're generous.' Although the remark is in the form of a compliment, it clearly has a control function to remind Howie to cut back on the amount he serves" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Or chefs may ratify the concern with food costs by transforming their enterprise into satire:

Denver jokes about the approximate number of vegetables he is dishing out. He comments: "One carrot too many." Kate joshes: "You should believe me when I say we have enough." Denver: "We should have a scale around here." Willy, the food and beverage manager, jokes with Denver about Denver's putting vegetables on the wrong plate: "Wasted three ounces of vegetables." Kate adds: "Write him up. Write him up." Denver counts the number of vegetables in three ounces: "That's seven and a half carrots and five zucchinis."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

Taken together, food, labor, and fixed costs determine whether a restaurant survives or fails; yet, chefs receive little training in making these decisions. They do no more than guess, cutting wherever they think that it will be unnoticed. As a result, chefs are not given final financial authority but have a management supervising and mediating their relationship with the external economy.

Managing Cooks

At their best, managers are friendly strangers in the world of the kitchen; at their worst, they are hostile intruders. In some restaurants, such as the three freestanding ones I observed, management is generally well liked and respected—even when lines are drawn between kitchen workers and management. In the hotel kitchen, management is resented, but their dicta are obeyed. In turn managers praise their cooks when possible, hoping to foster organizational loyalty and trust.

The Dynamics of Autonomy and Control

As with all instances in which work spheres abut, autonomy and control over the shared arena are critical. Occupations constantly attempt to expand their sphere of authority (Hughes 1971, p. 293; Abbott 1988). Degrees of autonomy are negotiated between the specific interactants and also between those organizational actors—state agencies, professional organizations, labor unions—that stand behind the immediate occupational arena. Not surprisingly, participants look to their local circumstances and personal relations for enacting change. Thus, Paul described his relations with Dan, the owner's son, who has the daily management responsibility:

Dan and I have a very good open line of communications. He has given me more of a free hand than any other chef in the past has. The last chef was really watched very carefully. I was watched when I first came in. They didn't know me from anybody. You've got a nice résumé, and you've got some experience. But does he know? Can he handle a kitchen? As time went on, I had to prove myself first. . . . They'd watch my sauces. Watch me make it, taste them. Everything I did. Anything I did they watched. They weren't staring at me, but they'd check on me. How I handled the people, how the food came out of the kitchen.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Perhaps because of their positive relationship, this head chef admitted that the owners should have final authority. He adds, "I have a free hand to do as I please in the kitchen, but if there's something they don't like, I will honor their professionalism and their etiquette and say, 'Fine, if you don't like it, we won't do it'" (Personal interview, Owl's Nest). This is the ideal relationship, and even though another might be generally positive, some aspects may chafe. Yet, despite the desire to make the web of authority personal, it is ultimately based on the rights of those with property and capital over those they employ and can, under most circumstances, fire.

Division of Knowledge

Workers resent managers because of their belief that their managers are not sufficiently skilled or knowledgeable to understand the problems that workers face. Thus, some managers, particularly in small organizations, attempt to learn about work tasks, to participate in the same discourse. For instance, the owner's son at Stan's has a cooking degree from the local technical vocational institute, and although he has never cooked professionally, "if a cook suddenly gets angry and decides to walk off the job, I can come back and cook" (Field notes). This skill not only increases rapport but also provides an extra layer of social control, should that be needed. The owner's son at the Owl's Nest actually worked in the kitchen for two years, which he modestly described as "a humbling experience." These men can communicate with cooks on an "equal-status" basis, since they are aware of some of the routine problems of the kitchen.[7] Knowledge can be acquired by managers if they make the effort.

The Politics of Autonomy

The savvy manager tries to convince workers that he will treat them with "a velvet hand in a velvet glove" (Burros 1986, p. 25), and that he will permit them as much autonomy as possible or at least its appearance (e.g., Burawoy 1979; Hodson 1991). Managers may permit cooks to listen to a radio in the kitchen and occasionally, as on Super Bowl Sunday, a television. Although the manager may enter the kitchen frequently, the shared illusion is that the visit is "merely" social, and that the cooks are in charge.[8] For instance, when Dan, the owner's son, visits the kitchen at the Owl's Nest, the cooks occasionally provide him with a taste of the special dishes that they are testing, ostensibly to share the dish but also to give him the opportunity to express his judgment. Indeed, in many small, seemingly friendly organizations, it may be difficult to know whether a manager is monitoring or just socializing. When the owner's son casually ate a vegetable from an order of veal Parmesan, was he testing the dish or snacking? (Field notes, Owl's Nest).

The chef must negotiate authority over the kitchen, as it isn't given at the outset and can always be limited. He must demonstrate competence before effective negotiation can begin. When the negotiation is unsuccessful, problems result, as a chef at a natural foods restaurant explained: "Part of it is the situation at the restaurant wherein management responsibilities aren't clearly delineated, and so I've had to deal with a lot of recurring problems that were never solved, because nobody grasped them and solved them. I didn't have the energy or the mandate from the owner to take over entirely, and so it was sort of a frustrating situation" (Personal interview). Ideally, the two parties should respect each other, allowing greater leeway. As the head chef at the Blakemore explained:

Denver: In the ideal situation it would be the two heads [the chef and food and beverage manager] combining and saying, "I don't want this because," and the other one saying, "I like this because," and just work it out between them. It works successfully in both ways, depending on who's stronger in food. If the chef is a knowledgeable, creative individual, he should be given free reign. If the [food and beverage manager] is more experienced and traveled than the chef, he should have some input.

Gaf: How does it work here?

Denver: If he wants something done which can be totally asinine, and I prove to him that he's wrong, on occasion I can reason with him and say this is why I don't want it done . . . and other cases he just comes out being just so stubborn, and I just back off so I'm not fired, and I say, "Fine. Do it your way." I really don't care. I don't want that hassle.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

Autonomy, while based in structural relations, is not absolute but must be acquired by the chef over time. Management, however, will not give up its right to control, even when it doesn't exercise that control.

The Dynamics of Control

At each restaurant where I observed, the owner, his representative, or the manager visited the kitchen on an almost daily basis. Even if the chef was in charge operationally, the owner wanted to know what was happening, "managing by wandering around." Each of the freestanding restaurants was the main source of income for the owner; therefore, he (and in two cases, his son) was directly concerned with the profitability of the kitchen. Cooks know that, and, in a capitalist system, properly, managers have the final say, although they should not push the point. As one cook told me, "When you own your own restaurant, you can do things your way, and you can pay people what you want, and you can run the shifts the way you want. When you work for someone else, you can't do that" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). Understandably, many cooks dream of owning their own establishment.

Owners see their presence as critical to the restaurant's success—micromanagement is part of their management ideology. For instance, Charles told me that the element that makes Stan's successful is the hard work that he, his brother, and his father put into the restaurant and the fact that they are constantly present, insuring, in his view, consistent quality. They established a system of oversight, controlling the keys and double-checking the tickets. Charles ordered meat, although he permitted his head cook to order fish. Every night he checked the inventory to insure that the restaurant will not run out of food.[9] Their control was so tight that cooks felt continually observed: "Evan asks me, 'Are you reporting all this to the [owners].' After I emphatically say no, Evan responds, 'That's good.' Al laughs, 'They've got the whole kitchen microphoned'" (Field notes, Stan's). In fact, the owner's son admitted that his presence is an indicator that something needs checking, has gone wrong, or needs to be corrected: "When I don't come back [into the kitchen], it's a compliment. When I come back, it's usually for a reason. Because of my background [being trained at trade school], I know what's going on back there. I'm reading plates. I'm talking to the waitresses. It's complimentary for me not to come back here. It's better not having someone breathing down their back" (Field notes, Stan's). Since his presence indicated the perception of a problem, it is understandable why Charles was not entirely welcome. When the staff would see him, they assumed that he had seen something that displeased him. Cooks at Stan's resented that owners ordered them about, for instance, making them perform meaningless jobs unrelated to cooking, such as watering the trees in front of the restaurant. One cook reported, "If I say anything to him, he says, 'I pay you seven dollars an hour. You can do anything I say to do'" (Personal interview, Stan's). This perspective is not limited to Stan's management; at the Owl's Nest one cook told me that the son of the owner treated him "like a slave," and the restaurant was "like a prison" (Personal interview, Owl's Nest). Even at La Pomme de Terre a cook scorned the owner for not knowing as much as he pretended and for being unable to judge culinary quality. Such resentment, the measure of alienation implied, seems endemic in that these workers were attempting to carve out their own rights and responsibilities from the shadows of management control. By contending that their employers are deficient, workers preserve their rights and underline the injustice of a lack of autonomy.

Union Control

The union has traditionally been a bulwark against "excessive" control by management. Of the four restaurants three—all but La Pomme de Terre—were unionized. These restaurant unions were weak, and complaints were numerous about their ineffectiveness or corruption. Significantly, none of the union representatives was a cook. Of the nineteen cooks who commented on unions in the interview, eight (42 percent) were in favor of unions and eleven (58 percent) opposed. In practice, unions had little daily effect; they were not a presence in the workplace. In such personalistic organizations in highly mobile job markets, unions cannot have the power that they have in some large organizations, where the membership is large, the labor pool more stable, and the market competition not so keen; where companies are more concerned with labor peace than cost cutting (Burawoy 1979).

Many cooks, even some in favor of unions in principle, felt their own union did nothing, and several used obscenities to describe their frustration. However, union supporters believed these institutions could protect workers from a hostile management:

There's a lot of places in the restaurant where you need someone to represent you. Managers have a lot on you if you don't have someone to represent you as far as paywise and working conditions. The manager can say if you don't like your conditions here, you're fired. . . . They can always get someone else to replace you. When you're in a union, you're more or less protected from that.
(Personal interview, Stan's)

I think a union is a good thing for anybody really. . . . Because my boss can't fire me just because he doesn't like me. . . . The union will fight for people.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

Others commented on increased benefits from union representation:

I filed a grievance [at a previous workplace], and I needed a union. They were right behind me, and I won. They were screwing me out of fourteen cents an hour for nine months. Without a union there to do anything about it, your employer says, "Well, tough." It's nice to have an equal with your employer. It's nice to have someone behind you to back you up.
(Personal interview, Owl's Nest)

I've worked nonunion and I don't like it. Too many people take advantage of these people that don't have some sort of strong backing behind them. The union gives you benefits.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

Other workers oppose unions not only because they are weak but also for philosophical reasons—mostly because they limit the freedom of businessmen who in the restaurant industry have a difficult time surviving. These workers see unions protecting lazy employees, not allowing better employees to be promoted on their skills. They believe that unions violate a sense of equity and put a roadblock between management and their employees:

It gets to the point where the unions tell the businessman how to run his business in terms of what he should pay and so forth. I don't think that's right.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

I think that if you do a good job and are a good cook, I think you don't have anything to worry about, and you don't need a union really.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

For these workers, unions are an institutional barrier to judgment and promotion based on merit. Unions serve as a buffer against management's attempts at control; yet, in doing so, they reduce the autonomy and sense of self-worth of workers by treating them as a class without regard to their abilities. In the guise of protecting workers, they have instituted a bureaucratic barrier to individual treatment. If strong, unions have the power to shape relationships in the restaurant, causing some restaurants to fail by raising labor costs.

Corporate Control

My generalizations about corporate control are limited since I have examined only one hotel kitchen. However, it was clear that the hotel kitchen had problems and frustrations not shared by the others. While this involved personal characteristics of staff and management, stories told about other hotel kitchens suggest that these problems were not unique to this establishment.

I began observing at the Blakemore shortly after some layoffs, when headquarters had insisted that labor costs be reduced. The layoffs were not well received. Some of those laid off had been popular, but even more important, the layoffs increased stress in the kitchen. The resentments and frustrations were real and were coupled with the recognition that management was always watching and could, if it chose, control every aspect of kitchen life, such as "writing up" workers for swearing, or banishing vegetables from the menu: "I ask Denver why they don't serve red cabbage anymore. He explains that '[the restaurant manager] doesn't like red cabbage. It's a nice vegetable out there at night. It's almost luminous on the plate.' One day the hotel manager told Denver that he was using too much broccoli and cauliflower, so they started using cabbage, cheaper and easier, but 'one day Sanjay ate dinner here, and he said, "I don't ever want to see it in here again"'" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel).

Many kitchen workers truly disliked the hotel corporation. The head chef explained:

DENVER: I'm not a big corporate fan. I don't like corporations.

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

DENVER: Coming to work. I said [to the hotel's general manager] I don't mind coming to work and busting my ass, and there were times before that we did. . . . That was fine, but at least when you're here you get a smile from someone or a joke, and you didn't mind working hard. But now it's just drudgery to just walk into the door in the morning. Everybody's chin is down to their shorts, and nobody's smiling. Every time you turn around somebody is lacing into you for some reason or another. I'm tired a half hour after I get here. Just from the atmosphere of the drudgery.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

While this chef claimed that he was working up to ninety-six hours a week, his cooks often saw him come in late and take off early, and didn't believe that he was concerned. They felt used; one pantry worker told me that she was exploited, adding "that's one thing about working for a corporation." Others spoke of poor benefits, poor pay, and poor equipment. The cooks felt that the cutbacks indicated that management didn't care and didn't understand that the cutbacks would hurt the quality of the food. One cook believed that good cooking was against management policy: "The Blakemore doesn't want to have good chefs. They want to have someone they can use. They want someone who will jump when they say jump. They don't want someone to run that kitchen so great and do better things and make their food stand out from other places" (Personal interview). Another emphasized that all the corporation wanted was "the dollar. You're expendable." Still another felt that the corporation believed that "if you work in the kitchen, you have minus intelligence" (Field notes).

I was told a story of how management accused a housekeeper of stealing, which was indicative of its attitude toward employees. She allegedly had a mental breakdown after being accused of the theft of five thousand dollars and after the corporation sent the police to her home at two in the morning. The next day the money was found in the guest's room. The story indicated how little the corporation cared about or trusted their employees.

This perspective bred intense sarcasm, a pervasive form of organizational behavior (Seckman and Couch 1989). When a potman didn't show up, one of the cooks sarcastically commented that "if they [management] want a pot and pan washer, they can get Sanjay [the manager in charge of the restaurant]." The cooks simply worked without pots and pans getting cleaned. Once the restaurant manager nearly slipped on a wet patch of floor. After he left, Denver cursorily examined the floor, shrugged his shoulders, and ignored the problem: it didn't matter.

In this restaurant the kitchen workers felt that the corporation was not on their side, and that the managers were not part of their community, which bred alienation. While this attitude is not found in every corporate environment, and some hotels are run well, I heard other, similar accounts of hotel life. The cooks were unable to understand the structural demands placed on the managers, and the managers were unable to communicate effectively with the cooks about their decisions. The structural web in which the hotel kitchen was enmeshed was never adequately explained to workers, although such an explanation might only have increased the alienation.


It is impossible to separate the reality of a organization situated in economic space from the reality that it is also a group with localized patterns of interaction. The culture of the organization responds to the culture of the community. In this chapter I have attempted to demonstrate some of these linked realities. Organizations must survive in a structured environment that demands minimized fixed, labor, and food costs with the maximization of customer patronage and profit per customer if the organization is to survive. Achieving these ends has consequences for the structure and culture of the restaurant. Cutting costs makes work life less pleasant and more demanding, either because the resources on which workers can rely are poorer or smaller, or because the amount of work that they must do within a period of time is increased.

In this chapter I hope to have demonstrated that an interpretation of work, grounded in culture and interaction, is congruent with a structural, organizational, and economic orientation. Behaviors of actors within the kitchen are constrained by external forces. In turn, the efficiency of joint action in the kitchen is linked to organization success within its competitive arena. Hovering beyond this, influencing how one can influence potential, targeted customers is the broader economy and the amount of competition from other organizations. We expect customer patronage to decrease in a recession, but if enough competing restaurants fail, the surviving organizations may profit and expand. These connections between macro- and microunderstandings of an organization are complex, but to ignore them would be to abandon explaining the dynamics of the economy.


1. Most freestanding restaurants are not opened by aspiring gourmets. Most are simple affairs in structure and cuisine, often attempts by middle-class citizens to become their own boss. The gourmet restaurant, however defined, is a small, if prominent, segment of the market.

2. Desens (1979, p. 60) writes about these complaints, justifying the connection to multinationals: "The objection raised by some people to the methods of the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] is that the school is perhaps too closely linked to the giants of the industry--the Marriotts, the ITT Sheratons, the Hiltons. Understandably and necessarily so, for the big chains offer most of the jobs in the industry as well as the money for grants and endowments."

3. The depths of dislike for customers among some in the restaurant industry can be intense. One co-owner of an haute cuisine restaurant remarked: "I have to listen to urologists and bulldozer operators telling me things about food. After eleven years, your opinion of the public is low. I used to think anyone eating reasonably well-prepared food will know he's eating it, but I move through the dining room sometimes and it's depressing. For some people, we could just as well open a can. They are so used to artificial flavors that when you give them actual food they don't know what it is. They look at fresh whipped cream with suspicion" (McPhee 1979, p. 90). break

4. Hotels are less dependent on regular customers, and during my month of observation, I was not aware that any customer received special treatment by the kitchen. No doubt officials of that chain received special treatment if they chose to eat in the restaurant.

5. Public fights between cooks and customers, while rare, have occurred. I was told that the hot-tempered former chef at La Pomme de Terre would occasionally argue with sinning customers (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre), just as a professional athlete will occasionally argue with his or her "fans."

6. Manhattan executive chefs or pastry chefs may earn up to $100,000 per year (Zukin 1990, p. 12), but even this figure, much higher than elsewhere, puts them far below the top of other "artistic" or "professional" occupations, except perhaps academics.

7. In contrast, the owner of La Pomme de Terre, even though he was well liked, was criticized for his occasional "stupid ideas." One cook told me, "He's never worked in a kitchen, and he comes up with these ideas of how we're supposed to work. He can't possibly know" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre).

8. Restaurants differed in the amount of functional control that the owner-manager exerted in the kitchen. The control was greatest at the hotel and the steakhouse. In the former, there was a string of managers who visited the kitchen and had the authority to make decisions--from the food and beverage manager to various levels of hotel management. At Stan's, Charles, the culinary-trained son of the owner, actually ordered meat for the restaurant, and he reviewed many important decisions that would have been the chef's responsibility elsewhere.

9. I was told that this is a particular source of conflict. As one cook informed me: "The owners get their nose in the kitchen; they don't know what to order; they order too much. . . . You've got Charles who's making phone calls from his office downstairs ordering stuff that Doug doesn't know about. I've seen a lot of friction between those two. Doug doesn't say nothing. I think the head chef in the kitchen, let him try to run it his way" (Personal interview, Stan's).

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