From the movie Food, Inc.
Just something for you to mull over today.
From the movie Food, Inc.
Just something for you to mull over today.
I know you and I are on somewhat good speaking terms. You’re the only coffee shop open at 6am between my home and work, and your coffee doesn’t taste like ass. It’s not the best coffee, but at 6am, I can’t be choosy.
At any rate, since I am one of the few residents of Seattle that doesn’t hate you consistently, I thought that I would be the perfect person to tell you one of your biggest failures.
Your croissants? They’re fake. They’re insulting to anyone who has ever had a decent one. A good croissant should be light and airy on the inside, with a delicate, flaky, outer crust. Yours is little more than white bread, disguised like the French pastry.
I realize that you are looking for a croissant solution which provides the same croissant experience in Seattle that one can have in Miami, but the result of this provides a coffee house option which is either lazy or presumes that the regular American consumer doesn’t know what deliciousness that this little pastry can provide.
It’s a new year, Starbucks. How about we take a moment to make your coffeeshops just a little more bearable.
What if they paid their tippable employees less than $5 an hour? What if they paid their non-tipped employees less than $9 an hour (which, is approximately $18k per year)?
We talk all of the time about the need for sustainable food, or frequenting our local establishments. But we very rarely discuss what characteristics should be in place that would make a career in food service livable.
It’s not often that I say that you HAVE to read anything that I post or point to. But it is worth a moment of your time to review ROC National Diner’s Guide 2012: A Consumer Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants (Note: PDF), if only to give light to the piss poor wages and benefits that the majority of people who work in this field have to endure.
From their book:
WHY THIS GUIDE EXISTS
With over 10 million workers nationwide, the U.S. restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the American economy, even during the current economic crisis. Unfortunately, despite the industry’s growth, restaurant workers suffer under poverty wages and poor working conditions. In particular, the industry suffers from:
1 LOW WAGES With a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers and $7.25 for non-tipped workers, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just below the poverty line for a family of three. This means that more than half of all restaurant workers nationwide earn less than the federal poverty line.
2 NO PAID SICK LEAVE 90% of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) report not having paid sick leave, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick, making sick leave for restaurant workers not only a worker rights issue but a pressing concern in public health!
3 OCCUPATIONAL SEGREGATION Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many opportunities to move up the ladder. Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 73% reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.
Just some thoughts to mull over next time you head to your favorite restaurant.
(h/t boing boing!)
I’m the type of person who likes the ideas of holidays in theory. But in application, I find them full of stress, panic, and the unwanted interaction with people with whom, if it were July, would deign it inappropriate to interact with me (and vice-versa). It’s one of the major reasons I like to travel around the holidays, as it gets me out of social obligations that I would like to avoid otherwise. This makes me sound Scrooge-ish, I know, but as I get older, but if you’re going to ask me to choose between having the day off, going out to eat with my partner, and reading a good book, versus heading to a meal with 15 other people, only 3 of which I know well, I’m going to choose the restaurant, my partner, and a book.
This leads me to talk about the joys of the restaurant Thanksgiving meal, a tradition in the Hopkins household. As a treat for all of the good meals I’ve cooked during the year, I’ve decided many years ago that the best thing I could do during the holidays is avoid socially obligated holiday cooking. It’s a tradition that started back in my twenties, when I wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, but was far enough away from family that I couldn’t make an easy trip, and too financially strapped to afford the long-distance travel. So, I looked in the newspaper, found a place that was open, and headed out to a turkey dinner. I enjoyed the time to myself immensely and did it again the next year. A tradition was born.
As I grew older and the holiday season approached, I saw more and more people caught up in the activities surrounding these meals, and become stressed at the thought of making the dinner perfect, or dealing with this one relative, or having to start the kitchen work at 6 am and not be done until 7 pm. These only cemented by belief that my choice was the way to go. I vowed to share the restaurant Thanksgiving with anyone who wanted to, but I would not go back to the tradition instilled activities of backing, broiling, and trying to find the best way to roast the best turkey. I now leave that entirely to the professionals.
There’s often more variety at the restaurants, and while the traditional foods are great, seeing a new take on the old classics does wonders for my palate. The service is typically top notch (at least the places I go), and the management of the places I frequent understand that many of their crew also want to spend time with their family, so they offer holiday pay to those who choose to work.
And now I’m spending these moments with my loved ones, who see the beauty of this arrangement. For me, it’s the best possible option. It’s also one I recognize doesn’t fit well on others. That’s okay.
But for some? Let me say this: Try it once. Do some research, see which of your family and friends would be up to it, and make early reservations (late September, early October). If you find the right place, it will change your look on Thanksgiving dinner.
There is a problem that arises once a person gets tagged with being a ‘foodie’ – the tagged person then becomes a benchmark figure in any circumstances when the discussion turns to food or restaurants. The other day, in the middle of a business meeting where the conversation turned to what restaurant to take visiting guests, my boss’s boss suggested a place, and then turned to me and stated, “I really enjoy this place. I’d love to hear your take on it.”
His request had asked of me something that I had learned to avoid doing years ago, namely to give my opinion outside of the right context. When I started reading, writing, and (most importantly) thinking about food, I quickly decided that it was not in my best interest to offer contrary positions on places that friends, co-workers, and anyone who generally aren’t looking for opinions on places that have already decided that they enjoy. It is not my role in life to poo-poo set opinions of others. Of course writing them down at this blog, where you, the reader, have volunteered to read my opinions, or hanging out with fellow food writers who do the same thing I do, that’s different. But more often than not, I believe that my non-foodie friend’s opinions are just as valid, and who am I to either imply, or explicitly state that they are wrong?
The thing is, there is a difference between critiquing a restaurant and having an opinion on it. Anyone can have an opinion. See yelp, if you’re not convinced of that fact. But critiquing, true critiquing is the ability to come to an objective conclusion about something, be it music, art, a restaurant, or even a style of cooking, based off of observable evidence, rather than opinion.
Or to put in another way, critiquing is the ability to pay respect to a topic you do not like, and challenge the assumptions of a topic that you do like.
It is a difficult line between forming an opinion and offering a critique. Stating that “I don’t like McDonald’s” offers the reader or listener nothing in the way of value. Stating “I don’t like McDonald’s because the burger to meat ratio on their hamburger is off, that they aggressively market to children, and that they underpay their workers”, is far more helpful, and provides the consumer of these facts much better context for them to come to their own conclusion about a place.
This came up again at the business dinner that I referred to at the top of this post, where I was asked to review the place. By this time, the majority of the participants of the meal had already decided that they place was little more than mediocre, and me offering a full listing of the things I found wouldn’t challenge anyone’s take on the place. So I went to work.
“The place is loud, and it’s difficult to have a conversation, making this a poor place to socialize unless you like shouting. The design in confusing, as they can’t decide if they want to be a traditional Italian restaurant, or have a modernist take on it. The menu was stained, and has about four entree’s too many upon it, meaning that there are likely some dishes that are ordered less often, leaving the back room less likely to have them at the ready. The dessert menu is a cliche. The wait staff in one room has limited site lines to the chef’s window, so they all tend to congregate around one table to keep an eye on if their orders are ready. The food is overpriced – if you’re offering $18 dollar spaghetti and meatballs, you better be offering something new or different to the dish, and adding a sliver of low-quality black truffles isn’t it. The risotto was dry, and the breaded veal came out below temperature, meaning it cooled quickly upon your plate. Oh, and the entrees should arrive all at the same time. “
We continued the critiquing to the point where we started a conversation on what we would have done differently, and it was clear that my dining companions were now thinking of aspects of a restaurant that are typically taken for granted. How much is a good price for stuffed mushrooms? What makes a good wine list? What makes a good host? All of these things combine together to make a restaurant experience, and the more that are ignored, the better the probability of leaving a poor impression.
Opinions are fine, and certainly everyone is entitled to their own. But facts make for a better conclusion. It’s never enough for me to hear “I like this place” or “I hate this place”. It’s far better to understand the facts behind what made those opinions.
But at the same time, it’s a lot of work. Most times it’s far better to sit back, and enjoy the ride without thinking of every nuance that made it happen.
Someone in the comments of my recent post on Rogue 24 brought an interesting term into the discussion on foods and restaurants. He said:
No one has to eat (at Rogue 24) if they do not want to, and U.S. citizens are notoriously lazy diners and bad customers. Bravo to these folks for placing value on their offerings and inviting interested and serious diners to engage with them. Don’t like it? Eat elsewhere, simple as that.
The term that caught my attention? Serious diners.
Setting aside the gross generalization that U.S. citizens are notoriously lazy diners and bad customers, I’m curious as to what defines a “serious diner”? My next question is, unless you’re a chef or restaurateur, why is there a need to be serious about dining? Isn’t eating out supposed to be about, almost by definition, having a good time?
While I get (and practice) the desire to find good places to eat in order to enhance the experiences shared with friends and loved ones, at no point would I deign an evening ruined if the food or service was unmemorable, but the company and conversation wonderful. By my standards, a dining experience has less to do with the food you eat than it is the company you keep. The food can be important, yes, but is it the most important thing in regard to a dining experience? Good lord, I hope not.
Frank Bruni (of all people) brought forth a phrase yesterday which I think needs to be part of our every day lexicon – Unsavory Culinary Elitism. Bruni used it in a piece to lambaste Anthony Bourdain and his recent tirade against Paula Deen, but it fits here in this discussion as well. For the phrase “Serious diner” implies un-serious diners, and that these un-serious diners have some characteristic that makes them unworthy (or less worthy) to go to places such as Rogue 24.
This is hogwash. The only criteria to get into most any restaurant is the ability to pay for the meal and the desire to do so. What motivates that desire is inconsequential, regardless of whether one is a serious diner or not. Anyone who claims otherwise is walking dangerously close to the Unsavory Culinary Elitism line.
And when the end of the evening comes, regardless of whether you’ve spent $5 or $500 for your meal, if you’ve had a good time and can walk away without guilt or annoyance, it was money well spent.
If reservations are canceled within 72 hours of the dinner (up to 3 p.m. on the day of the reservation), diners are on the hook for half of the check. Cancellations after 3 p.m. on the day of or showing up more than 30 minutes late for their dinners earn a 100-percent charge. Considering that meals run $175 per person for the full 24-course Journey menu with beverage pairings, forgetful and tardy diners can quickly run up a hefty charge without enjoying a single bite.
As dining is supposed to be a relaxed, peaceful affair, who in their right mind would submit themselves to this sort of restriction upon what is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. What sets Rogue 24 apart from any other elite restaurant? From their site:
The open kitchen, situated in the center of the dining room, invites guests seated around the kitchen stage to interact with Cooper and his culinary artisans as they craft each course and beverage pairing for the 24-act performance. The one-of-a-kind dining room serves as a platform to showcase the edible art for an audience of diners curious to explore the philosophy and inspiration behind Cooper’s distinct and captivating menu.
Ohhh, right. Edible art! How cutting edge! I wonder if the dishes will strive to give each patron a sense of ennui and angst while the meal’s subtext, communicated through nuance and allegory, will alert them to the struggles of the common man.
Or will it really be little more than a showcase for the chef’s ego? Anyone wish to take any bets?