09 Sep For this discussion you will need to read How to Tame a Wild Tongue Download How to Tame a Wild Tongueand Learning to Serve Download Learning to Serve. For this discussion, I want you to
For this discussion you will need to read How to Tame a Wild Tongue Download How to Tame a Wild Tongueand Learning to Serve Download Learning to Serve. For this discussion, I want you to focus on one of the readings for your Initial Post.
Your posts can be a mixture of your personal experiences and thoughts as well as direct quotes and examples from the readings. I will expect at least two quotes in your Initial Post and one quote per follow up post.
Below are some prompts to help you think about ways to approach your Initial Post. (Don't respond to multiple prompts. Some of these prompts are interconnected, and some are not.) You may also use these prompts as inspiration for your responses to classmates, but you do not have to.
Prompts (use one or two of the following prompts):
So what is the relationship between language and identity? What exactly is identity and why is it important? Is identity fixed? Or does it change and develop over time?
What situations—work, school, travel—have you be in when you have been forced to learn a new “language” or adjust your style of communication—writing, speaking etc—to fit in and succeed?
What about the different languages you speak and write in?
What situations can you use some languages in, versus others? Are any of these languages in conflict with each other?
In terms of literacy, what are some of your formative moments? Where did you learn to write and read in certain languages?
Where did these moments seem in harmony with your self-identity? Where did they seem in conflict?
Consider the relationship between authority/power and identity and literacy/language. Who determines what is the proper way to speak or write?
142 Wha They Don't Learn in School t
Works Cited The Gossamer Projea. (2000). krycek.gossamer.org/gossamer/index.html (accessed 20 Dec.
2000). Jaszi, P. (1994). On the author effect: Contemporary copyright and collective creativity. In
M. Woodmansee and P. Jaszi (Eds.), The Construction of authorship: Textual appropria tion in law and literature. Durham: Duke University Press.
Porter, J. (1999). Liberal individualism and internet poUcy: A commiuiitarian critique. In G. Hawisher and S. Selfe (Eds.), Passions, pedagogies, and 21st century technologies (pp. 231-248). Logan: Utah State University Press.
Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the internet. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Learning to Serve: The Language and Literacy
o f Food Service Workers Tony Mirabelli
itterwaitress.com is one of the newest among a burgeoning number of ' worker-produced websites associated with the service industry.! T h e
menu on the first page of this website offers links to gossip about ;lebrity behavior in restaurants, gossip about chefs and restaurant own- rs, accounts from famous people who were once waitresses,2 and cus- mer-related horror stories. There is also a forum that includes a "hate ail"'page that posts email criticisms of the website itself, as well as gen-
ral criticisms of waitressing, but the criticisms are followed by rebuttals ually from past or present waitresses. Predictably, most p f the criticisms
j'ther impUcitly or explicitly portray waitresses as ignorant and stupid, " n e ejliail respondent didn't hke what he read on the customer horror
ry page and sent in this response:
I f you find your job [as a waitressl so despicable, then go get an education and ! ' get a REAL job. You are .whining'about something that you can fix. Stop being
' such a weakling, go out and leam something, anything, and go m,ake a real con tribution to society…. Wait, Iqt me guess: you do not have any marketable skills
,or useful knowledge, so you do what any bumbling fool can do, wait on tebles. This is your own fault.
. 'his response inspired a number of rebuttals of which the following two
. st summarize the overall sentiment expressed in response to the- rant bove. The first is from the webmaster of bittenvaitress.com:.
1 4 4 What They Don't Learn in School
The second is from a mother of four:
I might not have a college education, but I would love to see those so called intel ligent people get a big tip out of a bad meal, or from a person who is rude and cocky just because that's the way they are—that takes talent and its not a talent you can learn at any university. So, think about it before you say, "poor girl—to dumb to get a real job…."
Assumptions that waitresses (and waiters) are ignorant and stupid and that waiting on tables contributes little to society are not new. The rebuttals to commonplace, pejorative understandings of the food service industry suggest, however, that there is complexity and skill that may go unrecog nized by the general public or institutions such as universities. Indeed institutions, particularly government and corporate entities in the United States, hke the Bureau of Labor Statistics o r the National Skills Labor Board, define waiting on tables as a low skilled profession. By defining this kind of work as low skilled, there is a concomitant implication that the more than one-third of America's work force who do it are low skilled.
Service occupations, otherwise known as "in-person" services (Reich, 1992) or "interactive services" (Leidner, 1993; MacDonald and Sirianni, 1996), include any kind of work which fundamentally involves face-to-face or voice-to-voice interactions and conscious manipulation of self-presen- tation. As distinguished from white-collar service work, this category of "emotional proletariat" (Macdonald and Sirianni, 1996) is comprised pri marily of retail sales workers, hotel workers, cashiers, house cleaners, flight attendants, taxi drivers, package delivery drivers, and waiters, among oth ers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (1996), one-fifth of the jobs in eating, drinking, and grocery store establishments are held by youth workers between the ages of 16 and 24. While this kind of work is traditionally assumed to be primarily a stop-gap for young workers who will later move up and on to other careers, it also involves youths who will later end up in both middle- and working-class careers. It should not be
Learning t o Serve / ' 145
forgotten that more than two thirds of the workers involved in food serv ice are mature adults—many or most who began their careers in the same or similar industries. Interactive service work is a significant part of the economy in the U.S. today, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs will be "abundant" in this category through 2006.
Economists such as Peter Drucker (1993) suggest that interactive service workers lack the necessary education to be "knowledge" workers. These economists support general conceptions that service work is "mindless," involving routine and repetitive tasks that require little edu cation. This orientation further suggests that these supposedly low skilled workers lack the problem identifying, problem solving, and other high level abilities needed to work in other occupations. However, relatively little specific attention and analysis have been given to the literacy skills and language abilities needed to do this work. My research investigates these issues with a focus on waiters and waitresses who work in diners. Diner restaurants are somewhat distinct from fast food or fine-dining restaurants, and they also epitomize many of the assumptions held about low.skilled workplaces that require interactive services. The National Skills Standards Board, for instance, has determined that a ninth-grade level of spoken and written language use is needed to be a waiter or a wait ress.'Yet, how language is spoken, read, or written in a restaurant may be vastly different from how it is used in a classroom. A seemingly simple event such as taking a customer's food order can become significantly more complex, for example, when a customer has a special request. How the waitress or waiter understands and uses texts such as the menu and hotv she or he "reads" and verbally interacts with the customer reflect carefully constructed uses of language and literacy.
This chapter explores these constructed ways of "reading" texts (and customers) along with the verbal "performances" and other manipulations of self-presentation that characterize interactive service work. In line with Macdonald and Sirianni (1996), I hope this work will contribute to the development of understandings and pohcies that build more respect and recognition for service work to help ensure it does not become equated with servitude.
Literacy and Contemporary Theory In' contrast to institutional assessments such as the National Skills Standards Board (1995), current thinking in key areas of education, soci ology, anthropology and linguistics views language, Uteracy, and learning
146 What They Don't Learn in School
as embedded in social practice rather than entirely in the minds of indi
w t ; J r ' K r – 19M , Mabr i and Sablo, 1996; New London Group, 1996; Gee Hull anri
ankshear 1996). As earlier chapters in this book have noted, Gee (1991. 6 ) – a key proponent of this conception of literacy-explains that to be lit" erate means to have control of «a socially accepted association amon^ identi^ ^smg anguage, of thinking, and of acting that can be used to w o T – T n ' T ' r t ' meaningfol group or 'social net work. In a similar fashion, research work located exphdtly within w o r t p ace studies proposes that hteracy is "a range of practices specific to
l i l l t X w ' s l ^ genders"
^ societal institutions, however, literacy, continues to be defined by considerations of achievement and by abstract, standardized tests of mdividual students. Also, there is a decided focus on printed texts over other mediums of communication hke visual and audio Such a focus limits our understanding of Uteracy in terms of its use in spe cific situations m multiple modes of communication. T h e New Literacy Studies orientation that shapes the work reported in this book a n d T – ^ J « f ^ d s beyond individual experiences o f reading tions nf the various modes of communication and situa tions of any socially meaningfiil group or network where language is
claims that due to changes m the social and economic environment
t e r m f of T f literacy education in tradif T h e concept of multiliteracies supplements ttad tional h t e r a ^ pedagogy by addressing the multiphcity o f commu-
cations channels and the mcreasing saHency of cultural and linguistic diversity m the world today. Central to this study is the understa^di^^J that literate acts are embedded in specific situations and that they also
t T o T i t l T " K of commmiica- tion including both verbal and nonverbal. In this chapter, I illustrate something of the character o f literacies specific to the "social network" o waiting on tables and show how they are distinct from the concep tions o f hteracy commonly associated with formal education. This is not simply to suggest that there is a jargon specific to the work, which a b o X h e something unique and complex abom the ways waiters and waitresses in diners use language and l i L – aCy in doing their work. ^ iirer
Learning t o Serve / 147
Methodology Takfen together, extant New Literacies Studies research makes a formida ble argument for the need to re-evaluate how we understand literacy in the workplace—particularly from the perspective of interactive service workers. The research reported here is modeled after Hull and her col leagues' groundbreaking ethnographic study of skill requirements in the factories of two different SiHcon Valley computer manufacturing plants (1996). Instead o f studying manufacturing plants, the larger research sthdy I conducted and that underpins the study reported here involves two diner restaurants—one that is corporately owned and one that is pri vately owned. In this chapter, however, I focus only on the one that is pri vately owned to begin addressing the specific ways that language use and literacy practices function in this kind of workplace.
l b analyze the data, I relied on some of the methodological tools from the work of Hull and her colleagues (1996). In short, I looked at patterns of thought and behavior in the setting; I identified key events taking place; I did conversational analysis of verbal interactions; and, I conducted soci- dcultural analyses of key work events.
The data used in this chapter came from direct participation, obser vation, field notes, documents, interviews, tape recordings, and transcrip tions, as well as from historical and bibhographic hterature. I myself have been a waiter (both part-time and full-time over a ten-year period), and I was actually employed at the privately owned restaurant during my data collection period. In addition to providing important insights into work er skills, attitudes, and behaviors, my experience and positioning in this setting also enabled access to imique aspects of the work that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. T h e primary data considered in this chapter were collected during eight-hour periods o f participant observation on Friday and/or Saturday nights in the restaurant. I chose weekend nights because they were usually the busiest times in the diner and were there fore the most challenging for the workers. Weekend shifts are also the most lucrative for the restaurant and the workers.
Lou's Restaurant Lou's Restaurant^ is a modest, privately owned diner restaurant patterned in a style that is popular in the local region. I t has an open kitchen layout with a coimter where individual customers can come and sit directly in front of the cooks' line and watch the "drama" of food service unfold while enjoying their meals. The food served at Lou's is Italian-American
148 WhatThey Don't Learn in School
and It includes pastas, seafood, and a variety of sauteed or broiled poultry beef, and veal. As is often the case with diner restaurants, Lou's has over ninety mam course items, including several kinds of appetizers and salads as well as a number of side dishes. The primary participants focused on in
'this chapter are three waiters at Lou's: John, Harvey, and myself. After finishing my master's degree in Enghsh Uterature and deciding-
to move out of the state where I taught EngUsh as a Second Language at a commumty college, I ended up working as a waiter for two years at Lous. This work allowed me to survive financially while fiirther advanc ing ̂ y academic career. At the time I began my study aj; this site, the only waiter to have worked longer than two years at Lou's was John. Like myself, Jolm began working in the restaurant business to earn extra money wlule in school after he had been discharged from the Marines where he had been trained as a radio operator, telephone wireman, and Arabic translator. Two days after his honorable discharge, he started working m the restaurant that four years later would become Lou's H e subsequently has worked there for ten years. John also is the most expe- nenced waiter at Lou's, and although the restaurant does not have an offi cial head" waiter, John is considered by his peers to be the expert. In an interview, he noted that it took almost ten years before he felt that he had really begun to master his craft.
Harvey might also be considered a master waiter, having been in the profession for over thirty years. However, at the beginning of the study he had been with Lou's for only two weeks. He ,was initially reticent to participate m the study because he said he lacked experience at this restaurant and "didn't know the menu." Having left home when he was 14 years old to come "out West," over the years he Jiad done a stint in toe Air Force held a position as a postal clerk, worked as a bellhop and artende^ and even had the opportunity to manage, a local cafe. H e
decided that he did not like managerial work because he missed the free dom, autonomy, and customer interaction he had as a waiter and took a position at Lou's.
The Menu Harve/s concern over mot knowing the menu was not surprising. The menu is the most important printed text used by waiters and waitresses, and n o t ^ o w m g it can dramatically affect how they are able, to do their work. The menu is the key text used for most interactions with the cus tomer, and, of course, th'e contents of menus vary greatly from restaurant
Learning t o Serve / 1 4 9
o restaurant. But, what is a menu and what does it mean to have a liter- te understanding of one?
The restaurant menu is a genre unto itself There is regularity and redictability in the conventions used such as the listing, categorizing, nd pricing of individual, ready-made food items. The menu at Lou's con
tains ninety main course items, as well as a variety of soups, salads, appe tizers, and side dishes. In addition, there are numerous selections where, for'example, many main course items offer customers a choice of their own starch item from a selection of four: spaghetti, ravioli, french fries, or a* baked potato. Some of the main course items, such as sandwiches, how ever, only cDme with french fries—but if the customer prefers something such as spaghetti, or vegetables instead of fries, they can substitute anoth er item for a small charge, although this service is not listed in the menu. In addition to the food menu, there is also a wine menu and a fall service bai" meaning that hard liquor is sold in this restaurant. There are twenty different kinds of wine sold by the glass and a selection o f thirty-eight dif- felent kinds of wine sold by the bottle, and customers can order most other kinds of alcoholic beverages.
In one context, waitresses and waiters' knowing the meaning of the words in the menus means knowing the process of food production in the restaurant. But this meaning is generally only used when a customer has a question or special request. In such situations the meaning of the words olT the page are defined more by the questions and the waiters or wait resses' understanding of specific food preparation than by any standard cookbook or dictionary. For example, the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (1996) presents a recipe for marinara sauce calling for a thick sauce consisting of tomatoes, tomatb puree, peppers, carrots, celery, and garlic all sauteed and simmered for over thirty minutes. At Lou's, a mari nara sauce is cooked in less than ten minutes and is a light tomato sauce •consisting of fresh tomatoes, garlic, and parsley sauteed in olive oil. At'a similar restaurant nearby—Joe's Italian Diner—marinara sauce is a seafood sauce, albeit tomato based. Someone who is familiar with Italian cooking will know that marinara sauce will have ingredients like toma toes, olive oil, and garlic, but, in a restaurant, to have a more conjplete understanding of a word like marinara requires knowing how the kitchen prepares the dish. Clearly, the meanings of the language used in menus are socially and culturally embedded in the context of the specific situa tion or restaurant., l b be literate here requires something Other than a ninth-grade level of literacy. More than just a factual, or literal interpre tation of the words on the page, it requires knowledge of specific prac
1 5 0 What They Don't Learn in School
tices such as methods of food preparation—that take place in a particu lar restaurant. i' ^u-
On one occasion Harvey, the new but experienced waiter, asked me w at pesto sauce was. H e said that he had never come across the term
f l a m e d that he had never worked in an ItaHan restaurant and had rarely eaten at one. Pesto is one of the standard sauces on the menu, and hke marinara, is commonly found on the menus of many tahan-i^erican restaurants. I explained that it comprised primarily ohve
oil and basil, as well as garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and a Httle cream. Harvey then told me that a customer had asked him about the sauce, and smce he could not explain what it was, the customer did not order it.
On another occasion a mother asked Harvey i f her child could have only carrots mstead of the mixed vegetables as it said in the menu.
though he initially told her this was not possible, explaining that the vegetables were premixed and that the cooks would have to pick t h e car rots out one by one, the motiier persisted. After a few trips from the table to the cooks hne, Harvey managed to get the carrots, but the customer tiien declined them because everyone had finished eating. Later I explained to Harvey that it would have been possible to go to the back of the restaurant where he could find the vegetables in various stages of preparation. While the cooks only have supphes of pre-mixed vegetables on the hne, Harvey could have gone to the walk-in refrigerator and picked up an order of carrots himself to give to the cooks.
Harvey's interactions with his customers highhght how much of what he needs to know to be a good waiter is learned witiiin the specific situa tions and social networks in which that knowledge is used. The instantia tion of the meaning of words Uke pesto and marinara often occurs in the interaction, between co-workers as well as with customers. Conversation becomes a necessary element in achieving an appropriately hterate under standing of the menu.
Harvey's understanding and use of the menu and special requests also mvolves more than his knowledge of food preparation. I t involves the mampulation of power and control. Sociocultural tiieories of Hteracy con-
^'ithority in tiie construction o f meaning (Kresj 1993). From his perspective, the order of carrots was not simply M order of carrots, but a way o f positioning one's self in tiae interaction. T ^ e customer saw her desire for tiie carrots as greater tiian what was advertised in the menu and thus exercised authority as a customer by requestmg them despite Harvey's attempt to not make die carrots an
Learning t o Serve / 151
option. While such a request might seem fairly innocuous in isolation, •when considered in the specific situation of Lou's at that time—that is, peak dinner hour—it becomes more complex.
Special requests and questions can extend the meaning of the menu beyond the printed page and into the conversation and interaction between the waiter or waitress and the customer. Furthermore, special requests and questions can be as varied as the individual customers them selves. The general public shares a diner restaurant menu, but it is used by each individual patron to satisfy a private appetite. How to describe something to an individual customer and satisfy their private appetite requires not only the abiHty to read the menu, but also the ability to read the customer. This is achieved during the process of the dinner interac tion, and it includes linguistic events such as greeting the customer or tak ing food orders and involves both verbal and non-verbal communication. In such events the meaning of the menu is continually reconstructed in the interaction between the waitress or waiter and the individual cus tomer, and as a text functions as a "boimdary object" that coordinates the perspectives of various constituencies for a similar purpose (Star and Griesmer, 1989); in this case the satisfaction of the individual patron's appetite. The degree to which private appetite is truly satisfied is open to debate, however. Virtually everyone who has eaten at a restaurant has his or her favorite horror story about the food and/or the service, and more often than not these stories in some way involve the menu and an unful filled private appetite.
In addition to being a text that is shared by the general public and used by the individual patron to satisfy a private appetite, the menu is also a text whose production of meaning results in ready-made consumable goods sold for a profit. The authors of a printed menu, usually the chefs and owners of the restaurant, have their own intentions when producing the hard copy. For example, it is common practice to write long exten sively itemized menus in diner restaurants like Lou's. As was pointed out earlier, Lou's menu has over ninety selections from which to choose, and many of these can be combined with a range of additional possible choic es. Printing a large selection of food items gives the appearance that the customer will be able to make a personal—and personalized—selection from the extensive menu. In fact, it is not uncommon for patrons at Lou's to request extra time to read the menu, or ask for recommendations before making a choice. The authors of the printed menu at Lou's con structed a text that appears to be able to satisfy private appetites, but they
152 What They Don't Learn in School
ultimately have little control over how the patron Avill interpret and use the menu.
T h e waiters and waitresses, however, do have some control. While customers certainly have their own intentions when asking questions, waitresses and waiters have their own intentions when responding. When customers ask questions about the menu, in addition to exercising their own authority, they also introduce the opportunity for waiters and wait resses to gain control of the interaction. A good example of how this con trol could be manipulated by a waiter or waitress comes from Chris Fehlinger, the web-master of bitterwaitress.com, in an interview with New Yorker magazine:
"A lot of times when people asked about the menu, I would make it sound so elaborate that they would just leave it up to me," he said, "I'd describe, like, three dishes in excruciating detail, and they would just stutter, 'I, I, I can't decide, you decide for me.' So in that case, if the kitchen wants to sell fish, you're gonna have fish." He also employed what might be called a "magic words" strategy: "All you have to do is throw out certain terms, like guanciale, and then you throw in some thing like saba, a reduction of the unfermented must of the Trebbiano grape. If you mention things like that, people are just, Hke, 'O.K.!'" (Teicholz, 1999)
The use of linguistic devices hke obfuscating descriptions and "magic words" is not unusual—particularly for waiters in fine dining restaurants. In The World of Waiters (1983), Mars and Nicod examined how English waiters use such devices to "get the jtmip" and gain control of selecting items from the menu. Their position of authority is further substantiated in fine dining restaurants by the common practice of printing menus in foreign languages, such as French, because it shifts the responsibihty of food ordering from the customer, who often will not imderstand the lan guage, to the waiter.
While diner restaurants generally do not print their menus in incom prehensible terms, they do, as at Lou's, tend to produce unusually long ones that can have a similar effect. But, diner menus hke Lou's which offer Italian-American cuisine do use some language that is potentially unfa miliar to the clientele (e.g., pesto). The combination of menu length and potentially confiising language creates frequent opportunities for waiters and waitresses to get a jump on the customer. Customers at Lou's tend to ask questions about the meaning of almost every word and phrase in the menu. No t being able to provide at least a basic description of a menu item, as shown by Harvey's unfamiHarity with pesto, usually results in that item not being ordered.
Learning t o Serve / 1 5 3
Knowing what a customer wants often goes beyond simply being able to describe the food. I t also involves knowing which descriptions will more likely sell and requires being able to apply the menu to the specific situation. For instance, in the following transcription I approach a table to take a food order while one customer is still reading the rrienu (Customer 3 b). She asks me to explain the difference between veal scalop- pini and veal scaloppini sec.
Tony: (to Customer 3 a and Customer 3 b) hi Customer 3b: what's the difference between scaloppini and scaloppini sec? Tony: veal scaloppini is a tomato-based sauce with green onions and
mushrooms / veal scaloppini sec is with marsala wine green onions and mushrooms
Customer 3b: I'll have the veal scaloppini sec Tony: ok / would you like it with spaghetti / ravioli / firench fries Customer 3b: ravioli Customer 3 a: and / I'll get the tomato one / the veal scaloppini with mushrooms Tony: with spaghetti / ravioli / french fries Customer 3a: can I get steamed vegetables Tony: you want vegetables and no starch? / it already comes with veg
etables / (.) (Customer 3 a nods yes) ok / great / thank you Customer 3 a: thanks
The word sec fimctions not unlike one of Fehlinger's "magic" words. Customers who are interested in ordering veal frequendy ask questions about the distinction between the two kinds of scaloppini. I discovered over rime that my description of the veal scaloppini sec almost always resulted in the customer ordering the dish. It seemed that mentioning marsala wine piqued customer interest more than tomato sauce did. One customer once quipped that marsala was a sweet wine and wanted to know why the word sec—meaning dry—^was used. I replied that since no fat was used in the cooking process, it was considered "dry" cooking. In situations like this the menu is situated more in a conversational mode than a printed one. The transition from print to spoken word occurs due to the customer's inabiUty to tmderstand the menu, and/or satisfy his or her private appetite which results in a request for assistance. As a result the waiter or waitress can become the authority in relation to not only the printed text, but within the interaction as well. Eventually, I began to recommend this dish when cus tomers asked for one, and the customers more often than not purchased it.
This particular food-ordering event also is interesting with regard to the customer's request for steamed vegetables. When I as
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