Ambivalent restoration | The Press

Lately, the shortage of labor in the restaurant industry has caused a lot of ink to flow. By following the economist reasoning put forward in the public square, we come to believe that everything is a question of figures or articles of law. It is still difficult to grasp what the concrete experience of restoration work is made of.

Posted on June 11

Jules Pector-Lallemand

Jules Pector-Lallemand
PhD student in sociology and author of the essay Pourboire: a sociology of catering (Éditions XYZ, April 2022)

Anyone who has been there for a while knows that this world contains much more than just salaried jobs: its magnetism attracts those who cross its field into a unique lifestyle. On the one hand, this lifestyle is painful. The work there is grueling: it is always done in a rush. A lot of alcohol is consumed there: during the shift, but especially afterwards with colleagues. And we spend a lot of money to satisfy our newly acquired habits: going out regularly to restaurants and treating ourselves to good products.

On the other hand, the restaurant lifestyle is exhilarating… for precisely the same reasons! The work is intense and you never get bored: the very idea of ​​going to work in an office is repulsive. We drink alcohol and have fun like crazy: we have never had so many friends and fun in a workplace. We spend without counting this curious currency that is the tip in order to enter a world of flavors that was hitherto unknown to us.

The shooter is the quintessential gift in the world of restaurants and bars. More than just drinking alcohol, sharing a tour is a ritual of communion that binds the participants. In small quantities, the shooter intoxicates, relaxes, brings closer. In too large quantities, it gives a headache, makes you sick. It is no coincidence that “gift” and “poison” share the same etymological root in the Anglo-Saxon languages.

Like the shooter, the lifestyle of catering employees is ambivalent, because its qualities are inseparable from its faults. You can’t have the bar and the bar money.

Many restaurant workers find themselves torn between two equally unsatisfactory avenues: either stay in the restaurant business and endure the harshness of this world, or leave it and give up part of their identity.

The pandemic has marked a forced downtime for many and hastened their decision to leave the restaurant business. But already the new ones are flocking to this absorbing world.

In this period of revival and boiling, the contours of a collective reflection are drawn before our eyes. More or less explicitly, we try to answer the question: how to make our lifestyle viable?

It is a matter of finding a balance between the qualities and the defects of this world. Without this existential questioning, catering will remain a sector of activity haunted by the shadow of its ambivalence. The answer to the dilemma of its employees does not lie in introspection, where one scrutinizes only one’s interiority. Rather, it involves extrospection, that is to say a look at the codes, standards and culture of the restaurant industry. Many people have already understood that personal change requires a rearrangement of the relationship with others and a remodeling of the institutions that hire us.

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