Tuesday, February 27, 2007

You just haven't earned it yet. pt. 2

"Beep. Beep. Beeeeep. Beeeeeeeeeeep! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPP!"
Desperately rolling around in search of that awful noise my hand eventually finds my small cell phone. The morning, and by morning I mean 2 o'clock in the afternoon, alarm has been going off. Its demanding noise is meant to raise me from my slumber to start another toilsome day at work. My shift starts at 4:30 and goes until close again tonight. Two closing shifts in a row means long hours, for potentially no money. Tonight is sunday which means that the restaraunt will be much slower, they'll cut most of the staff by 9 and there will be two waiters, the bartender, the manager, a runner, the two kitchen guys, and a dishwasher until 11 pm. At 11 the kitchen closes, then an hour later, the bar. Once the bar is closed the other waitress and I will put up the chairs, fold more silverware, do our cash outs and at 1 in the morning be heading out to the nearby bar for a drink or two before last call.

Maybe the runner will stick it out and go to the bar with us, usually if they do I buy them a drink due to the wage discrepancy. My days of foodrunning and bussing are long over but most of the front of the house staff had to engage in the menial and low paying tasks at some time. That we get paid at least twice as much due to the tip structure and my long memory often guilts me into buying a drink for some sap whose burning their arms on hot plates, picking up smooshed kids' crackers, and plunging stuck toilets.

The bartender will hurry along with closing the bar, often catching up with us at the bar, or even getting their before us. Often the bartender, who ever it is, will be drunk or buzzed already. Being behind the bar gives the bartender free reign to guzzle, sip, taste, or abstain from any of the liquors available with minimal scrutiny from management. Bartenders are expected to have different interactions with the customers, and a bartender can have show a direct malice to their customers that would get a waiter fired.

The first restaurants began to appear in Paris in the 1760's, and even as late as the 1850's the majority of all the restaurants in the world were located in Paris. At first they sold only small meat stews, called "restaurants" that were meant to restore health to sick people.

Before that, people didn't go out to eat as they do today. Aristocrats had servants, who cooked for them. And the rest of the population, who were mainly peasant farmers, ate meals at home. There were inns for travelers, where meals were included in the price of the room, and the innkeeper and his lodgers would sit and eat together at the same table. There were caterers who would prepare or host meals for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. There were taverns, wineries, cafŽs and bakeries where specific kinds of food and drink could be consumed on the premises. But there were no restaurants.

Partially this was because restaurants would have been illegal. Food was made by craftsmen organized into a number of highly specialized guilds. There were the "charcutiers" (who made sausages and pork), the "rôtisseurs" (who prepared roasted meats and poultry), the paté-makers, the gingerbread-makers, the vinegar-makers, the pastrycooks. By law only a master gingerbread-maker could make gingerbread, and everyone else was legally forbidden to make gingerbread. At best, a particular family or group of craftsmen could get the king's permission to produce and sell a few different categories of food.

But these laws reflected an older way of life. Cities were growing. Markets and trade were growing, and with them the power and importance of merchants and businessmen. The first restaurants were aimed at this middle-class clientele. With the French revolution in 1789, the monarchy was overthrown and the king was beheaded. The guilds were destroyed and business was given a free hand. The aristocrats' former cooks went to work for businessmen or went into business for themselves. Fine food was democratized, and anyone (with enough money) could eat like a king. The number of restaurants grew rapidly.

In a restaurant a meal could be gotten at any time the business was open, and anyone with money could get a meal. The customers would sit at individual tables, and would eat individual plates or bowls of prepared food, chosen from a number of options. Restaurants quickly grew in size and complexity, adding a fixed menu with many kinds of foods and drinks. As the number of restaurants grew, taverns, wineries, cafés, and inns adapted and became more restaurant-like.

The growth of the restaurant was the growth of the market. Needs that were once fulfilled either through a direct relationship of domination (between a lord and his servants) or a private relationship (within the family), were now fulfilled on the open market. What was once a direct oppressive relationship now became the relationship between buyer and seller. A similar expansion of the market took place over a century later with the rise of fast food. As the 1950's housewife was undermined and women moved into the open labor market, many of the tasks that had been done by women in the house were transferred onto the market. Fast food restaurants grew rapidly, and paid wages for what used to be housework.

The 19th century brought the industrial revolution. Machinery was revolutionizing the way everything was made. As agricultural production methods got more efficient, peasants were driven off the land and joined the former craftsmen in the cities as the modern working class. They had no way to make money but to work for someone else.

Some time in the 19th century, the modern restaurant crystallized in the form we know it today, and spread all over the globe. This required several things: businessmen with capital to invest in restaurants, customers who expected to satisfy their need for food on the open market, by buying it, and workers, with no way to live but by working for someone else. As these conditions developed, so did restaurants.

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