Scenes from the Class Struggle at a Restaurant Table, Part 1

Is dining out predicated on the class struggle?

With the return of Downton Abbey to the (not so) small screen, a certain level of pop culture is filled with thoughts of class. After all, the man in the show whose sole mission in life is to care for the eponymous pile and the land around it is a member of the peerage, a class set apart yet intricately involved with those who work the house and the land. Encroaching on this lifestyle is modernity, signified by a middle-class, both high and low – the industrial working class seems somewhat distant.

Servants are seen not heard.

Servants are seen not heard.

The series is beautifully produced but unsubstantial. It feeds the Anglophilia of Americans who watch public television, a fairly educated middle-class with a nostalgia for something they never knew – Brazilians call that saudade. I suppose I’m one of them. I’m in it for the tweeds. Yet, I can’t help muse on issues of class. Oh, Marx, you could’ve never guessed interest in the questions to which you dedicated your formidable intellectual powers would end up being spiked by a soap opera!

And so, to dining. Not at the table of an Earl, but at the middle-class establishments where the rituals of the peerage are re-enacted (as farce?). At a restaurant table.

Here, unlike our homes (forgive me, dear reader of the 1%, I don’t mean you at all), we are served by employees who greet us, show us to our seats, ask what we want, and serve us. They do these things with various degrees of skill, which will be noted by another group, restaurant critics. These will publish their findings and help us decide where to dine, although today more and more it is we, the diners, who write such reviews.

The behavior of these employees imitates, to some degree, the behavior of the servant class of yore at fine homes like Downton Abbey. Which brings me to my topic. Should we expect the rules of social class to be followed at a restaurant? Is such expectation reasonable, not unlike, at another level, the fiduciary relationship between a doctor or lawyer and a client? Or is it, like the viewers of the TV show infer and the show itself insinuates, part of the very oppressive class structure that motivated Marx himself, in England, to ask the workers of the world to unite and lose their chains?

A specter is haunting the restaurant table.