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Nov 6, 2009 07:44 PM

Servers at ethnic eateries ...

Do you expect that ethnic restaurants would always have servers of the same ethnicity as the restaurant itself?

E.g., Mexican restaurant with Mexican servers. Chinese restaurant with Chinese servers. Etc.

Today, at lunch, we were at a Thai restaurant and our server was Middle Eastern. Now, this is not a commentary on our server's abilities (she was by all means professional and more than competent, by the way) nor about Middle Eastern workers generally, but rather a question about expectations and perception.

It was just a little jarring to see a non-Thai waiting tables at a mom-and-pop type Thai restaurant (about 25 tables total).

Some of us in the group commented that because there was a non-Thai waiting tables the food must be less than authentic.

Whether that statement above is true or not, I thought that it might be a bit of a business faux pas because sometimes perception is more important than reality. If there are customers out there that actually believe the ethnicity of the server somehow reflects upon the authenticity or quality of an ethnic restaurant then it might behoove the owner to seriously reconsider some of his business practices.

Your thoughts?

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  1. I remember a few years ago, I went to my local Chinese restaurant to pick up an order. I admit I was slightly taken aback that there was a caucasian lady, in full Chinese dress behind the counter. Mind you, I'd never seen anyone but Chinese in that restaurant for about 15 years.

    A few weeks later, I went back to the same restaurant for another pick up but this time I waited in my car in front of the place until my order was ready. The back door opened and a bunch of Mexican cooks were taking out the trash at the end of the night.

    Back in the late 70's I was a baker in a Jewish restaurant in NY; I'm African American/American Indian & am not Jewish. Most of the regular customers knew that and it didn't stop them from scarfing down my ruguleh & knishes (lol)

    I know that people expect ethnic cuisine to be cooked & served by the same ethnic staff but these days, most restaurants are not so much a stickler for how it used to be. Personally, I think that as long as waitstaff & cook is knowledgeable about the menu, I'll reserve judgement about the authenticity of the food until after I taste it. JMO

    3 Replies
    1. re: Cherylptw

      Great answer- I agree wholeheartedly.

      1. re: Cherylptw

        in los angeles practically everything is cooked by mexicans.
        as a matter of fact, the owner of one of the most famous armenian bakeries in town gave the business to his two mexican assistants when he retired.
        they renamed the place, but still serve armenian baked goods.

        1. re: Cherylptw

          agree! When I lived in So. Cal., I often found Mexican sushi chefs. A nearby Italian restaurant's servers were all Hispanics. Was it a tad jarring, in both instances? yes, but certainly not off-putting, and never made me think the food was less than authentic. how many upscale restaurants have Central Americans and South Americans doing most of the actual prep and cooking? Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential writes extensively about his sous chefs were mostly from a little town in Mexico. If they learn how to cook my food deliciously, and serve it in a pleasant and professional manner, I don't care where they're from.

          ETA: oh jeez, just saw how old this thread was!

        2. I don't think it reflects on the authenticity of the restaurant, if anything it might help.

          Last night went to an AYCE Korean BBQ and a Hispanic fellow waited on us. It was early and looking around the other three parties in our area the parties were Hispanic. I know of a restaurant in Chinatown where they employ a Hispanic lady to deliver dishes and help the Chinese waitresses take the orders from the Hispanic clientele.

          1. Not servers, but my biggest shock years ago when I came to California and looked into the kitchen at Tokyo Lobby and the whole cooking staff was Hispanic. Seems to be a normal staffing situation at many Japanese restaurants I frequent.

            1. The original comment has been removed
              1. I understand the difference might be much the same as eating at an Italian restaurant with leftover nautical decor from the preceding seafood-house identity of the place. But I think it's up to us, the diners, to "get over it."

                BTW, the last time I was in our favorite Vietnamese pho restaurant, the kitchen door was open, and the cooks were all Mexican. Tony Bourdain would smile and nod knowingly at that.