Front of the House, Back of the HouseRace and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers

Front of the House, Back of the HouseRace and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers

Eli Revelle Yano Wilson

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9781479800612

Publisher: NYU Press

Abstract

In restaurants, why do all the white people work in the front and the brown people in the back? What keeps these workers apart, consigned to highly unequal types of jobs? Drawing on six years of ethnographic research within three Los Angeles–based restaurants, Wilson details how managers and workers jointly divide service workplaces by race, class, and gender. While managers frame social inequality through discriminatory hiring and supervisory policies that grant educated whites access to the most desirable positions and relegate foreign-born Latino men with low levels of education to the marginal jobs, interactions between members of each group end up sealing distinct "worlds of work" off from one another. While these processes bind the most vulnerable Latinx workers to low-level service jobs, it can also foster unexpected opportunities for others. Through Wilson's extensive behind-the-scenes research, we learn how what happens in everyday service establishments exacerbates but also gives new dimension to social inequalities in our society at large.