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Apr 30, 2010 09:46 PM

The authenticity of a restaurant, or "what's the ethnicity of your server?"

For an ethnic restaurant to be authentic, does its servers also have to be (for lack of a better word) ethnically appropriate?

In other words, for a French Bistro to be authentic, does its servers have to French? Tournesol in Long Island apparently seems to think so, hiring only French servers for the restaurant to create the aura of authenticity.

Do you think this is something that's necessary?

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  1. I think there's been a long thread along this same line previously. IIRC it was about the chef, not the server.

    It is unlawful in the US to deny someone employment because of national origin. So the qualification for a server must not be national origin. This restaurant is, IMO, a lawsuit waiting to happen, if they won't hire a non-French server, esp one who can speak French.

    27 Replies
    1. re: PeterL

      Anti-discrimination laws would apply only if Tournesol employed 15 or more employees. As a 40-seat bistro, they may fall under the reach of the law.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        You mean fall outside the reach of the law. There is the law, and then there is bad publicity.

        1. re: PeterL

          How is that bad publicity?

          I was just responding to your post that this might be an illegal practice.

          I mean there are lots of Taiwanese restaurants in the U.S., for example, that won't hire a non-Chinese server, and in fact won't ever hire someone from mainland China (but for reasons having nothing to do with authenticity, unless one is talking about political authenticity).

          But that's really beside the point. I'm just curious whether people think the ethnicity of a restaurant's servers is an important factor in the authenticity of a restaurant.

          I know if I walked into a Shau Mei in SGV and saw that one of the workers behind the buffet table was Australian with a heavy Aussie accent, it would take me back a bit.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            That some people may decide not to frequent a restaurant that discriminates when hiring.

            Are there really "lots" of Taiwanese restaurants in the US that won't hire non Chinese servers? My experience from my days in Monterey Park is that lots of Chinese restaurants (many owned by Taiwanese) will hire lots of workers from south of the border. Why the iconic Ding Tai Fung has Mexican XLB makers making their signature XLB right from the glass enclosed kitchen for all to see. That does not seem to stop the Chinese clientele from ordering XLB made by Mexican workers.

            1. re: PeterL

              "Are there really "lots" of Taiwanese restaurants in the US that won't hire non Chinese servers?"


              From my experience, yes (unless you are talking about dishwashers or busboys).

              1. re: ipsedixit

                In order to be a server at a chinese restaurant, you have to be able to speak Chinese (as the chefs don't speak English).

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Or cooks. I remember many years ago when Monterey Park first came into my consciousness, I found that my favorite Chinese BBQ ducks were cooked by Mexican cooks. Ranch 99, Taiwanese owned, employs Mexicans in their meat and fish departments. And even as cashiers. Now if they can trust Mexicans with their money, the sky is the limit.

                  1. re: PeterL

                    Agreed on both counts.

                    Again, I'm not trying to stir up a hornet's nest on the legality of only hiring certain types of servers.

                    Just asking a question of -- if it did happen -- whether that contributes anyway to a restaurant's authenticity.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Yes it does, tohell with all the legaleze. What kind of an experience would you have at a Jamaican joint if the server was white with a NY or a deepsouth or LA valley accent? Hmmmm? Authentic means authentic.

                      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                        oh please. you can't have an authentic Jewish Kosher deli dining experience unless your server is an Old-World Eastern European who occasionally breaks into spontaneous Yiddish? or an authentic Northern Italian dining experience unless your server is straight off the boat from Friuli or Emilia-Romagna? bummer for you.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          You hit the nail right on the head! I grew up in New Jersey, where all people working in pizzerias and other Italian restaurants were Italian. When you live in the "boondocks" (any place Southwest of Washington, D.C.) you are liable to get servers with Southern or Midwestern accents who make me question the credibility of the cuisine right off the bat. So my answer to your two rhetorical question is a firm "Yes."

                        2. re: mrbigshotno.1

                          "Authentic" to whom? "Authentic" to what?

                          Again, if a Mexican restaurant features dishes from Jalisco, and the chef and owner are from Jalisco, but the server is from Vera Cruz, how is your "authenticity" compromised?

                          Let's take it to another level. Say the owner and chef are from Guadalajara, and the cuisine if from Jalisco, but the server is from San Luis Potosi, would that diminish the "authenticity" of the food, and the restaurant?

                          What if the restaurant was Parisian, as was the owner, the chef and the server, but the dishwasher was from Algiers? How would that compromise things? I mean, how could the restaurant be "authentic," with an Algerian dishwasher? Would they not also need a Parisian dishwasher? Just think, those dishes will soon be filled with Parisian fare, so an Algerian would "contaminate" things, right?


                          PS - what about the valet? Should he also be Parisian?

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            You left out one of the most important characters: the other customers.
                            Many restaurants "tone down" their fare in order to appeal to customers' tastes.
                            Perhaps not as much of a problem today as a few years ago, especially if you are lucky enough to live in a more cosmopolitan city, but it is certainly a factor influencing the authenticity of the food many restaurants serve.

                            1. re: racer x

                              You are so correct. That was an often important omission on my part.

                              Where there is an ethnic element to a restaurant, looking around the dining room, can often tell one a lot.

                              Thank you for pointing that out.


                          2. re: mrbigshotno.1

                            My husband had a colleague in Switzerland who was half Trinidadian and half Chinese. He was very dark and looked like an African-American. He said he loved going to Chinese restaurants in the US and speaking Chinese to the waitstaff (fluently I suppose since he learned it from his mother). Sometimes "authentic" is hard to define. Personally I love it when people shatter the stereotype.

                            1. re: Querencia

                              Indeed -- Marcus Samuelsson, anyone?

                              Who's going to tell him he's not authentic?

                        3. re: PeterL

                          What did you mean by "Now if they can trust Mexicans with their money, the sky is the limit."?

                          Just curoius- I don't even know what Monterey Park or Ranch 99 are, to be honest

                          1. re: PeterL

                            I know of one French chef, who has won a James Beard award, but his sous-chef is from the US, and does a very good job, when Chef is not in the house, plus does a great job, when Chef IS in the house. Many folk in the culinary fields CAN be trained, and most do a great job.

                            One of the best meals that I have had, was in Hawai`i, and the sous-chef was Mexican. The executive chef was from Hawai`i, and had created much, plus trained this sous-chef. I know the executive chef, and have dined at many of his other restaurants, and felt that the meal, prepared by that sous-chef was excellent, and in keeping with the philosophy of that particular executive chef. Some of the best Hawai`ian inspired cuisine, that I have had.

                            Not sure that one's ethnicity precludes their abilities in/around the kitchen, or the dining room.

                            "Authenticity?" Well, my ethnicity is buried very deeply - like 10 generations, so what do I know about ethnicity?

                            However, if the chef is from El Salvador, the server from Greece, and the cuisine is from France, so long as it's good, and along the lines of what I expect, I am fine.


                      2. re: ipsedixit

                        Not to me, but I might be the exception?


                  2. re: PeterL

                    Here's at least one of the many long threads on this subject


                    1. re: PeterL

                      I think that either you folks are misunderstanding the law or hooters should be sued by every man in America and every woman in America without hooters...

                      1. re: StheJ

                        Hello all,

                        As a waitress myself, I am 100% of the opinion that the service staff have nothing to do with the ethnic authenticity of the cuisine- I don't cook it, I just make sure the kitchen makes what you asked for.

                        Also- a man in Texas did bring a suit against Hooters. He settled, as have other disrimination suits against the lust-for-bust chain. Here's that story :,2933,5...


                        1. re: UnderemployedInNYC

                          So they are misunderstanding the law... Thanks for clearing that up.

                          1. re: UnderemployedInNYC

                            Your point, is about the same one, that I have been trying to make in this thread.

                            Still, some seem obsessed with "authenticity," or "ethnicity," and take it to the Nth degree.

                            I have had 100o% "authentic," from growing to cooking to serving, that was not THAT good. OTOH, I have had great meals, in a cultural sense, that was conceived by a chef of THAT culture, but cooked by one of another, and served by one, of yet another. Oh, and I never looked closely at the documents of the valet.

                            Let's take this to the zenith. Let's say that one has a seed from the Yucatan, that produces one of the dishes, BUT that seed was was, in fact, grown in the soil of Tennessee, and then included in a dish, using a recipe from the Yucatan, but served by someone from Michigan? How could there be ANY "authenticity" in that dish, though the recipe came from the land of that seed. Let's get a bit real here.


                          2. re: StheJ

                            Hooters has been sued many times -- and because hooters are a key component of the company, it stands.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              I think that I have dined at one Hooters, and as a guest.

                              The grouper sandwich was OK, but the whole "scene" was not what I seek out, when dining. Same for "sports bars," or "wing joints."

                              Just not MY "style."

                              I know nothing of any lawsuits, but will take an CH's word for them.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                I used to live in their hometown -- so every time Hooters sneezed, the local media reported it.

                        2. I always demand to see the passport of my waiter. No telling what these people will do to get a job. Restaurants serving "authentic" Canadian food but with Chinese waiters are the worst offenders.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: beevod

                            it might get like that in Az soon enough!

                            I would be surprised to see only Mexican servers in a Mexican restaurant or Jewish servers only in a Jewish deli. But it does seem true in Chinese restos - not sure if I've seen an American born server in a Chinese restaurant well it certainly feels like it.

                              1. re: smartie

                                Actually, if you get far enough away from places with ethnic populations you are more likely to see, for example, non-Chinese servers in Chinese restaurants. I remember the first time I went to a Chinese place in Oklahoma and our server was a sweet OKC gal complete with "y'all's" and cowboy boots. Food was fine. I guess there just weren't enough Chinese people to cook the food and serve it.
                                BTW, in the USA, if you're eating French, Italian, New American, steakhouse or at any chain your food is most likely being cooked by someone whose native tongue is Spanish, probably from Central or South America. The exceptions seem to be Asian and African foods.
                                As far as upscale dining is concerned, I like the idea of the front of the house being able to speak the language of origin of the food - or at least be able to pronounce the names of the dishes even if I can’t.

                                1. re: bobbert

                                  Even in some cosmopolitan areas, the ethnicity of the whole "house" might not be an issue. One of our favorite French restaurants, back in Denver, has a US owner, a US chef and a US sommelier. Still, they produced some of the better French cuisine, that we have experienced, including Paris. It can happen.


                              2. re: beevod


                                I originally thought that this post came from Veggo, but obviously, there are others, with his sense of humor!!!!

                                Good point - always ask for the papers of anyone in the chain, from the chef, to the sous-chef, to the server, to the dishwasher and finally, the valet in the parking lot. Gotta' know just who all of these people are. You can never be too careful, when it comes to "authenticity," or "ethnicity." Could be an American in the mix, and that would ruin the entire dining experience.


                                1. re: beevod

                                  To beevod: By what authority do you demand to see the passport of your waiter? The question of whether even the police have the right to demand documents based on an individual's apparent ethnicity is currently in the courts. If such legal authority is decided, surely it will be in the hands of such designated officials as immigration officers or policemen---we are not yet a vigilante society. And do you find that restaurant owners react with pleasure when you harass their employees?

                                    1. re: Querencia

                                      Umm. I believe beevod was joking, just like 99% of his/her posts.


                                  1. There is atmosphere, and then there is food. I personally feel that the ethnicity of my server has nothing to do with the quality or authenticity of the food. From the service side, for me ethnicity doesn't matter, but personality does (or at least the personality that is presented to the guests). The service style should be in line with the style of restaurant, and the server should understand the cuisine they are serving.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: maxie

                                      Hear hear. At last a voice of wisdom and insight in an odd thread.


                                    2. The authenticity of the food has little to nothing to do with the server.

                                      I'm an white girl of Irish decent who serves at an Authentic East Indian restaurant. It's the chefs who happen to be Indian, Punjabi or Nepalese.

                                      1. I don't care if my food is served by well-trained chimps, if the food is up to par / "authentic" to my personal taste (let's just not go over the whole authenticity BS again, shall we?).

                                        FWIW, there's a cute and reasonably priced French bistro in Berlin that employs only French waiters. It may add to the atmosphere, but has zero influence on the food. Which is good, but not great.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          As long as the chimps can answer questions about the menu, I'm right with you - in fact, I'd go out of my way to eat there!

                                          1. re: Striver

                                            I'd be a little anxious about accidentally making them angry, though...

                                            1. re: Striver

                                              The chimps, with whom I have dealt, are better than most, though they do have to rely on their notes, a bit too often.


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                It can also be difficult to keep them from flinging *things* at diners.

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  but it gives poopoo platter (sic) an interesting twist.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      Well... as one, who dines in Hawai`i often, I will not spend too much time on this one, so as to not "spoil" things.


                                                    2. re: linguafood

                                                      Yes. I can well imagine, but choose not to, as I have not eaten yet tonight.