Comments about the Rhetoric of Dining in Restaurants in the United States

  • In the social institution we call the restaurant, there is a disjuncture between eating and eating being possible. In other words, the process of eating is not a collaborative process with those who make eating possible. Countless people are involved in the consumption of said food being possible, all of whom are invisibilized. Such erasure includes those who initially planted or caught the food, those who processed the food, those who transported the food, and those who finally cook the food, for example. This process suggests that the “Wizard must remain hidden.” A delicious meal appears before people, almost as if by magic, per se. After all, at the very least, a separation between the kitchen and the dining room is not necessary. This disjuncture is, in part, completely new, historically.
  • The restaurant experience is dependent not just on the safety and taste of the food, but on the quality of service provided, the general environment of the restaurant (including any music playing, the lighting and decor, the comfort of the tables/booths and chairs, the behavior of other customers, the proximity of tables), and access to disposable income. As a result, the dining experience is partly communal and partly a locale of privilege and partly a ritual of isolation.
  • The contemporary dining out experience further commodifies basic nutrition and life – food and water. Everything costs money in the restaurant business, and because capitalism is a system designed to make the very richest even richer, everything cost much more than is necessary to cover the true costs.
  • Eating at a restaurant means giving up almost all notions of autonomy or control. People go in, order items from a (basically set) menu, and hope that they will receive said items and that said items will be safe to eat. People also trust (or hope) that they will not be harassed by employees of the restaurant or other customers.
  • Going to a restaurant involves multiple layers of performance and ritual for all parties from initially entering the restaurant, to sitting down and looking at the menu, to ordering, to waiting for the meal, to eating, to paying, to talking with others and “people watching,” and to leaving the restaurant. Each party has clearly defined roles with specific social rules to follow. And don’t forget the specific plates and silverware for the bread, and the salad, and the entrée, and the dessert.
  • The restaurant industry is exploitative. Servers and managers work really, really long hours and receive very little pay in return. Drug abuse is rampant in the restaurant industry, as is sexual harassment from customers toward servers and from managers toward servers. Servers are paid according to the whim of customers.  
  • Restaurants are anti-social and anti-person. The pressures of capitalism and loud, busy hours limit any possible socialization between all parties. The very public nature of dining out also limits the scope of conversations, in most cases and for most people. Similarly, restaurants are frequently locales of very high-stakes meetings.
  • Restaurants, like all aspects of industrialism, bring attention to time. Service that is too slow or too fast is a problem to the customer. Eating or visiting for too long is a problem to the restaurant. People have other places to be before and after eating out.
  • Restaurants are places where people can order different items, get out and about for a while, help the economy a bit, and try different things. They make life simpler for some people and for some situations.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda