Abolish Restaurants: A Worker’s Critique of the Food Service Industry

Kitchen staff working

“The secret to a successful restaurant is sharp knives.” – George Orwell

Dear reader,

Whether this reaches you during a smoke break, or while lying on a long couch with a small cat sleeping at your feet and a cup of coffee steaming at your side as we all deserve to be: please excuse the rage that follows and the lack of cool I keep while discussing the food service industry. It is difficult enough knowing that I will never again be able to enter a restaurant or cafe, even as a customer, without questioning the real cost of the experience for those who work there–my comrades, my brothers and sisters whom I have labored and suffered with since the day that I was old enough to work, with whom I have formed relationships that were stronger than any other–but it is even more difficult knowing that myself and these friends of mine will more than likely never have a proper podium from which to discuss the terrible conditions we have come to rely on to make money and which are deemed regular in society, or to even recognize the extent of it ourselves and how terrible the conditions are before we are off to work another thirteen-hour shift, as there is never enough energy, money, and in this case, time, for a restaurant worker to learn or do anything outside of a restaurant. So if there is any fair means of making a disclaimer about the fine boundary between book review and personal essay, or even litany, which I plan to test in the following paragraphs, I would like to warn as well as assure my reader that the bulk of what by default will be found inappropriate here does not stem from any true intention to harm anyone or any specific restaurant where my experiences were born, but rather an obligation to take advantage of one of the smallest microcosms of a platform to discuss as best as possible the horrors I’ve endured in service industry work and the suffering it has caused me and my friends.

To begin, with the title of the book, “Abolish Restaurants”–the day that I was introduced to it, I laughed because of the title, as anyone would’ve. Of course I could not tell then whether the proposal of this anonymous writer was to actually eliminate restaurants from our world, the same as a real anarchist means by wanting to abolish the police, or whether the title was only meant to exemplify the agony in proletarian restaurant work in a sardonic way, and even after reading it, I still can not tell. However, I still believe it is the closest I have ever been to feeling vindicated for the cruel means I have earned my living, which have threatened me to no avail to remain there for the rest of my life anywhere I go.

The 57-page pamphlet was originally published in 2006 by PM Press as number 0005 in a series, and published anonymously with the name Prole, which is a shortened form of proletarian. The original edition was published with illustrations which paired with the text simultaneously, like a graphic novel, however since, the text has been available online in many places for free without the illustrations, which is the way I read it.

Think of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, only written by a once-aspiring chef, having decided that he did not want to be a chef anymore and finding he was stuck there, that it was the only kind of work he knew and which, wherever he went, was readily available for him. 

It is a miracle enough that Anthony Bourdain (R.I.P.) managed to bring the book into the world. I imagine what his manuscript looked like by the time he was finished and can only imagine ketchup stains and uneven pages from having been run through the dishwashing machine several too many times. The difference I am trying to make between the two books is that, while Kitchen Confidential reads more as a diary or memoir of a dejected restaurant worker, Abolish Restaurants is an honest attempt at exposing once and for all how restaurants as we know them first came to exist, and how unremittingly abusive and yet esoteric their working conditions have become, both to those who either do or do not wish to become master chefs, New York Times best-selling authors, travel documentarians, and television show hosts.

Veiled as a critique of restaurants, Abolish Restaurants is a critique of capitalism in one specific field, and the same thing could be written about any other field. “It is a functional and necessary part of a larger system”, Prole said in an interview, “that creates similar conditions everywhere. It’s business as usual. And just as importantly, the alliances that are made between workers fighting against these conditions point in the direction of what could be a larger subversive force. Capitalist society is built on class struggle and Abolish Restaurants is trying to put forward the perspective of one side in that struggle.”

On average seventy-percent of the GDP in most countries is because of service industries, and America is on the upper end at seventy-seven percent. 

Everyone I know works at a restaurant: some with accumulated student loan debt from their past attempts to not end up there, others who droop with utter desperation, since they know so well to not expect a life without the shriveled hands of a dishwasher, the burns and cuts on a line-cook’s arms, drug and alcohol dependencies, three hours of sleep the night before and responding to the boss: “Just fine, thanks”, the cynicism which develops in a waitress, the stink of shit, the dread of Sisyphus, the lack of time or money for vacationing and, as result, learning to hate their own city, pains in the stomach because of their refusal to eat the food prepared by a coworker whom they know is not payed well enough to care to wash his hands and, having worked two shifts in a row that day, being not allowed a single fucking five-minute break to eat their own food, or the certainty they will be reprimanded for eating in the kitchen–qualities which all are guaranteed, accepted, and assembled gradually, one hour at a time, ten dollars apiece.

My opinions are so strong that I can barely speak on the subject. 

Forget what I have to say.

Quit your job and read Abolish Restaurants instead. 

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