Front of the House, Back of the House
Race and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers
Published by: NYU Press
224 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781479800629
- Published: December 2020
How workers navigate race, gender, and class in the food service industry
Two unequal worlds of work exist within the upscale restaurant scene of Los Angeles. White, college-educated servers operate in the front of the house—also known as the public areas of the restaurant—while Latino immigrants toil in the back of the house and out of customer view.
In Front of the House, Back of the House, Eli Revelle Yano Wilson shows us what keeps these workers apart, exploring race, class, and gender inequalities in the food service industry.
Drawing on research at three different high-end restaurants in Los Angeles, Wilson highlights why these inequalities persist in the twenty-first century, pointing to discriminatory hiring and supervisory practices that ultimately grant educated whites access to the most desirable positions. Additionally, he shows us how workers navigate these inequalities under the same roof, making sense of their jobs, their identities, and each other in a world that reinforces their separateness.
Front of the House, Back of the House takes us behind the scenes of the food service industry, providing a window into the unequal lives of white and Latino restaurant workers.
Eli Wilson invites us inside some of the fanciest restaurants in Los Angeles. The food may be exquisite, but the mundane racism he documents will churn your stomach. As a waiter he is privy to a system of racial apartheid between the front of the house and the back of the house. This book vividly shows how white managers and workers benefit from the everyday oppression of immigrant laborers.
~Christine Williams, author of Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality
You’ll never see that Hamachi crudo with yuzu kosho the same way after reading Eli Wilson’s Front of the House, Back of the House. The stories and commentary of this well-told tale of restaurant work give that plate a chain of literal “back-stories”: of structural and racial discrimination and of the real humanity of food workers. The meeting point in a fine-dining restaurant is the kitchen-to-dining-room “pass-through” where the dishes created by mostly “brown-collar” workers, with different pay scales, languages, family lives and opportunities meet the front-of-the-house workers whose wages, lives and experiences, in the very same establishment, are so very different. This should be required reading for anyone interested in the social, economic and racial coding of labor in America – and for anyone who comes to the table to consume the foods of that labor. ~Merry White, author of Coffee Life in Japan
This beautifully written book uses the world of restaurants to provide readers with a primer on the making and re-making of everyday social inequality. Filled with lively ethnographic detail and yet always keenly analytical, Eli Wilson has delivered is a volume to be savored by scholars and students alike. ~Roger David Waldinger, The Cross-Border Connection: Immigrants, Emigrants, and Their Homelands
Eli Wilson’s careful research reveals the parallel universes of work that keep upscale restaurants humming. At the front of the house, young, white bartenders and servers who telegraph “cool” and “class” leisurely interface with the customers and collect the higher pay, while in the kitchen an army of lower-paid Latino immigrant men frantically cook, clean, bus tables and literally run as “food runners.” But one of the many surprises is this: the back of the house runs not only on super-exploitation, but also a complex work culture defined by an ethos of loyalty, mentorship, skilled craftsmanship, and masculine competition. And a smaller sample of US-born Latinx workers use their in-between status to leverage new positions. Offering nuanced insights into how race and class operate in the workplaces of 21st century global cities, this book is a must read not only for students and scholars, but also for fine dining enthusiasts, celebrity chefs and their Instagram followers—if they are willing to look beyond their plates. ~Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Florence Everline Professor of Sociology, USC