I've just started reading Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman and she's talking about me. On average Americans eat out at restaurants once a week. I eat out about once a week. In fact, I look forward to that regular break from shopping and cooking.
Even though I've barely finished the first chapter of the book, I can see its relevance to eating out in Tallahassee. One of the many issues Jayaraman raises is that restaurant staffing follows a fairly predictable pattern. Lighter skinned people work as waitstaff and darker skinned people are employed behind the kitchen door or as bussers. Of course, kitchen staff and bussers make less than their waitstaff co-workers, and that problem is compounded by the fact that many restaurants never promote kitchen workers or bussers to better paying jobs.
My personal sampling of restaurants in Tallahassee leads me to conclude that I can recall seeing diverse waitstaff at Red Lobster and Cracker Barrel. Many of the other restaurants I've supported with my patronage have all white waitstaff. It's a symptom of my white privilege that I have to bring to consciousness the question of whether I've seen black and white waitstaff working together. It's a symptom of endemic racism that, in a city where 34% of the population identifies as black, many of the restaurants I've dined in don't have diverse waitstaff.
I am called to embark on a local, personal research project. One that should find expression in a Sunday service. I envision interviewing owners, managers and waitstaff at the restaurants I frequent. I want to ask the owner/manager describe the waitstaff and kitchen staff, and to talk about their relative wages, and also how they advertise for applicants when seeking new employees. Finally, I want to ask them for permission to speak to some of the staff. When I talk to staff I'd like to ask how long they've worked at the restaurant, why did they apply to the restaurant where they are employed, did they apply to other restaurants at the same time. at which restaurants were they granted interviews; and if they are making a living wage in their current position.
All of this data will inform an early to mid-May sermon and service focusing on what happens behind the kitchen door and on the dining floor. In the meantime, I can recommend Behind the Kitchen Door to anyone who ever eats in restaurants. It will lead you to consider new definitions for sustainable food and just desserts.