Text the author originally intended to write as a comment to the excellent “Abolish restaurants” to perhaps give some hints to which directions the restaurant and food industry is going.
But as my experiences of course is rather limited to the about 15 differents places in Sweden where I have worked with food, it would be nice to get some input from others who is working or have worked in restaurants, food processing or is just attentive customers. As I usually don´t discuss these things in english my language might be a bit confusing, so feel free to ask.
The times they are a-changing...
Class compositions is not just about how and where we work, but about a lot of different thing, among them how we eat. In Sweden, more and more people are eating at restaurants and fewer and fewer is eating at home. This has, among other things, lead to changes in the restaurant business. So there is some material basis for more employees in restaurants as well, but the need for more waiters and cooks could lead to a stronger position for the restaurant workers so the owners have countered the need for skilled workers with different means. When it comes to waiters and waitresses to most common trick have just been to employ unskilled teenagers (with “unskilled” I mean without a formal education), in Sweden a unskilled 17 or 18 years old restaurants worker cost about 2/3 of an older skilled worker and they are probably less likely to start problems for the restaurant owner. And usually the customers don´t really expect more of the service workers then a smile and someone to bring out their food (and not for example hints about what wine to drink or conversation).
The skilled kitchen personal is perhaps harder to get rid of, to be able to make a decent meal in short time you have to have certain skills. In other occupations skilled workers have been made expandible by new machinery and in the recent years I have noticed the same tendency in the restaurants. At the place I work now, we have got a new oven which got dozens of programmes for different kind of food. For example, you can just punch in what kind of food you´re making – apple pie, lasagna or bread and the oven then starts to it, it has preset programmes with set temperatures, time and heat/steam. And when the oven starts you can´t tell the temperature then. This means you basically don´t know how to cook to make food in the oven. But thats not the only function. The other function is control, your boss can go back and check the computer to see what programmes have been used at what time to and counter that with what has been sold or what time we “should” start at the day. Basically, the knowledge that used to only exist in the heads of the kitchen slaves is built into machines, so that would mean that the heads of the kitchen slaves is made obsolete and only their hands are needed.
As the head line indicates, this post is also about cloning, or to be more precise, the food industry. With higher and more even quality from the food industry and cheaper and better processed food you don´t need to know so much about food to be a cook. For example, they sell sauce-basis for sauce bearnaise which is very cheap and of decent quality, this would mean you don´t need anyone in your kitchen who actually knows have to make sauce bearnaise, so the occupational knowledge is built into the goods at this point, nothing odd about that. But when it comes to cloning, the knowledge is, so to speak, built into animals. This means you can get a pork loin that is exactly the same all the time, fried 10 minutes at 200 degrees will every time produce the same result.
My conclusion is thus that the material conditions for removing all skilled workers from the restaurant business already exists, but that doesn´t really mean it will happen over night. Many restaurants is run by a sole owner that have only one joint, it is not a centralised business based on a few big owners or multinationals (even if that is also a possible development). I would guess that many of the small owners can´t afford the new fancy equipment anyway.
Anyway, I hope that you who reads this can put in your two cents about what you think will happen and how this will influence the class struggle.
Kim Müller aka the swedish chef.