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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.

    24 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: 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?

                          Hunt

                          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.

                              Hunt

                      2. 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.

                          Hunt

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      Not to me, but I might be the exception?

                      Hunt

                2. re: PeterL

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

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6653...

                  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 : http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,5...

                      http://underemployedinnyc.blogspot.com/

                      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.

                          Hunt

                        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.

                            Hunt

                            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.

                                Hunt

                            2. re: beevod

                              LOL,

                              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.

                              Hunt

                              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.

                                    Relax.

                                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.

                                    Hunt

                                  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.

                                            Hunt

                                            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.

                                                    Hunt

                                                  2. re: linguafood

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

                                                    Hunt

                                            2. I used to think that the ethnicity of the server was important, but now I realize that it's more important that the server knows about the food, whether his/her ethnicity matches the food's or not.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ricepad

                                                ricepad....AMEN! There is a sushi bar near my home and although I always sit at the sushi bar I'm expected to order everything from the servers instead of directly from the sushi chef. This is very bizarre for me after years in CA and having some wonderful sushi there. It is also very frustrating since the servers don't even seem to know the common Japanese names. I feel rude when I deal directly with the sushi chef because the server is just fumbling around.

                                                So, I don't care about the ethnicity, but I DO care about the server's knowledge of the cuisine.

                                                This is off topic, but I also wish that when I order a vodka on the rocks with a twist I don't get a whole wedge of lemon squeezed into my premium vodka...or worse, a lime.

                                              2. ipse............. you REALLY DO stay awake nights coming up with these topics, don't you?

                                                "Authentic"..... maybe, but to me that has nothing to do with the quality of the food. One of my funniest recollections is of a local Italian restaurant (somewhere in North Orange County, CA) that an old boss of mine took us to a long time ago. He was a pretty high roller, and loved really good food and wine, so his recommendation and selection of this place gave it credibility.

                                                He also had a sense of humor. One of the things he really 'liked' about the place was that the Italian-accented owner was training his son (the owner's) to be a server, but the young man (having been born in the US) just didn't have the 'authentic' feel. So the father had him wear a rather obviously fake moustache and speak with an also rather obviously fake Italian accent. It was a real experience. Keeping a straight face was difficult ............ but the food was very good.
                                                Authentic.............not on that count. Everything else about the place................... YES!

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                  Well, when I'm stuck at an airport, there sometimes is really nothing better to do.

                                                  I'm just throwing the question out there, I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other. I will say that if I went to a Taquería and was served by a Chinese dude, my foodar (as in food radar) would be definitely on high-alert.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    Come to Toronto, I will take you to my friendly local Chinese- owned and staffed, Halal,
                                                    taco joint!
                                                    But just to see it, not actually eat the food, which is no better than it sounds.

                                                      1. re: julesrules

                                                        And also keep in mind that the various ethnic groups who have immigrated to North America and the US over the years also immigrated elsewhere...and may well be from other countries despite their ethnicity or race.

                                                        My favorite South Indian restaurant, the lamented and long-gone Sapna in Reno, NV (where DH and I had a long-standing Friday lunch date for years) was owned by a man named Jimmy Wong, who was (obviously) of Chinese descent. But he had grown up in India and was married to an East Indian woman. They were both chefs at the restaurant. It did not surprise me in the least, as when I traveled in India I had learned that many restaurant chefs there are of Chinese descent, especially in western India. In fact, many restaurants in India have a few Chinese dishes mixed in with the mostly Indian menu, for just this reason.

                                                        I believe that there are also a fair number of people of Asian descent in Peru, and their dishes often reflect that.

                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                          Yes, we have a whole category of Hakka restaurants that serve Chinese-by-way-of-India food. I think there may even be a chifa (Chinese-Peruvian). But the Chinese taco joint, that quickly turned Halal when they got a read on the hood (but still neglected to reprint new menus minus pork), was just random and bad. It did not last long.

                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                      Yes, "authentic." Long ago, I had a client, who grew up in Chicago. On several shoots for him, we ordered from a "Chicago" pizza parlor, nearby. The owner was from Chicago, and the pizzas were really great. That client complained that they were not "authentic." On one shoot, we went to Chicago, for one of the products, and he took me to an "authentic Chicago pizza restaurant." Their pizzas were horrible, but in the world of "authenticity," were probably right-on - just bad.

                                                      So much for "authenticity?"

                                                      Hunt

                                                    2. As long as the restaurant serves the food described on their menu, it doesn't matter who takes the order or brings it to the table, which in no way negates the authenticity of the food itself. While there are some restaurants still not hiring based on nationality, it is against the law, regardless of how many employees the restaurant retains. If the potential hiree can prove they were discriminated against, there is basis for a suit. You don't get a pass because your place of business only has X amount of employees.

                                                      http://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/empl...

                                                      http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html

                                                      On another note, a Chinese place where I live has Mexican cooks & white servers. Does that mean it's not authentic? Nope; the place stays packed.

                                                      9 Replies
                                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                                        Cheryl,

                                                        I am sorry but you are incorrect in saying that "You don't get a pass because your place of business only has X amount of employees"

                                                        The very article you cite from smallbusiness.findlaw states the follow: "If you are an employer with at least 15 employees, you must follow these federal laws (although the prohibition against age discrimination only applies to employers with 20 or more employees)." Ergo, if you are a business with 14 or fewer employees these laws do not apply.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          State laws, however, may differ from Federal laws. In Calif I believe discrimination laws apply to employers with 5 or more employees.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            You said nothing about age discrimination, you said the restaurant on Long Island wouldn't hire anyone who wasn't French. According to the link info, that is against the law no matter how many employees one has. That was my reason for posting the link.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                Perhaps you need to...I posted that it was against the law to not hire someone based on their nationality; you're original thread (at the top of this page) said that a certain restaurant won't hire someone if they're not French. You also said that if a place of business has under 40 employees they can discriminate based on nationality. I found a link that indicated otherwise...end of story and have a nice day...

                                                                1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                  No, a place with less than 15 employees (the 40 was in reference to the number of customers a restaurant's maximum capacity).

                                                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                    Actually, ipsedixit could be right. Reread the last paragraph of the first link you posted. Exceptions to the prohibition of discrimination based on someone's national origin are occasionally allowed. For example, an association representing Hungarians in the US is looking for a new national director. The organization will not run afoul of the discrimination law if they give preferential consideration to Hungarians or Americans of Hungarian ancestry, as it is reasonable to expect that an effective leader of this association would have Hungarian roots. Similarly, a dim sum restaurant located in an area with a large southern Chinese population that accounts for over 50% of its customers could make fluency in Cantonese a requirement for servers, essentially limiting the eligible job pool to people of Chinese origin. That would not necessarily be deemed discriminatory because it can be argued that it is important for servers to be able to communicate with customers in a language they can understand. However, the restaurant on Long Island that hires only French staff to "create an aura of authenticity" is on thin ice. That's a pretty feeble excuse for discriminating based on national origin.

                                                            1. re: Cherylptw

                                                              (putting on my HR Manager hat)
                                                              I think you are misunderstanding the law. Title VII says that you cannot discriminate against anyone due to their gender, race, sex, religion or national origin. However, only private sector employers (and some public sector ones) with more than 15 employees are subject to this law. Employers with more than 20 employees may not discriminate against anyone due to their age (40+ being the protected class).

                                                              Theoretically, a restaurant with 10 employees could, in fact, hire only Chinese servers (as an example). Or they could stipulate that servers must be able to speak fluent Chinese. Since most non-Chinese workers don't speak fluent Chinese, that would limit the pool of applicants.

                                                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                Reminds me of th old joke from the early 1970s where a grocery store owner was told by a federal inspector that 35% of his hirees had to be minorities, or the owner would face prosecution and heavy fines. So he called a meeting of his staff and sadly told them he was going to have to lay off some of the minorities.

                                                              2. I was thinking just that thought at my favorite (and quite authentic) Vietnamese restaurant the other day. It was a warm day and the kitchen door was open. All the cooks: Mexican. (Tony Bourdain would say "Yes, of course.")

                                                                Authentic, to me, is defined by what lies on the plate in front of me.

                                                                1. as long as servers are knowledgeable about the food they're serving and possess sufficient English language skills to communicate with me effectively, i don't care if they're striped, polka-dotted, have three heads, or were born on a planet in another galaxy.

                                                                  1. Here in the UK, there's been a long-standing issue with certain ethnic restaurants - mainly Chinese & Indian sub-continent - where restaurant owners have claimed that they need to use new immigrant labour for language reasons. It is an extremely dubious argument designed to get around discrimination laws - our laws apply to all employers and do give a get-out to small scale employers to be bigots.

                                                                    Changes to immigration law are going to mean that they are going to have to stop discriminating as unskilled labour will no longer be allowed to immigrate into the UK (and many from the existing minority ethnic communities do not see restaurant work as a chosen profession).

                                                                    Of course, for many other "ethnic" restaurants, we have free movement between the countries of the European Union, so you will see Brits working in Italian restaurants in Spain - and Estonians working in Cypriot restaurants in Wales.

                                                                    I don't find this detracts or enhances my eating experience.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                      Whoops typo-alert.

                                                                      In the above, I wrote "do give a get-out". Of course, should have read "do NOT give a get-out"

                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                        I recall an experience at a Pakistani grocery store cum take-away restaurant. I asked the Auntie at the counter to make sure that the seekh kabab I ordered was well cooked inside this time, please. She turned to the Mexican cook standing next to her and said "One order seekh kabab. Andar se good cook, amigo." (andar se means inside in Urdu).

                                                                      2. In central PA, you hope that your pizza joint is run by Mexicans (or sometimes Italians). Better than any other pizza joint.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: melpy

                                                                          The Italian resto/pizza joint I go to is owned by an Israeli and the wait-person is Israeli and the cooks are black.....best pizza in the city.

                                                                        2. I know what the OP was getting at and I have to say it depends...

                                                                          I used to work for a Thai restaurant in the UK where all of the servers other than the manger were white...all of the chefs were straight from Thailand and the food was amazing and authentic...it took nothing away from this successful and very popular restaurant....
                                                                          BUT
                                                                          I live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Jersey. We have lots of REAL authentic restaurants...
                                                                          Recently we tried a small Mexican place, where the incredibly lovely waitress did not speak a word of English (nor did anyone else for that matter - cutomers or servers) - and I do have to say it really did add to our experience...
                                                                          The food, the atmosphere, the servers...it was all so real - for lack of a better word!

                                                                          15 Replies
                                                                          1. re: NellyNel

                                                                            Is there such a thing as a FAKE authentic restaurant? Just curious. :)

                                                                            Personally, I'm of the opinion that it's the cooking that counts, first and foremost. - alhough in my home country, I do prefer a server who can answer questions about the menu.

                                                                            1. re: Striver

                                                                              Thank you, Striver. Before this devolved into a legal issue of who can or can't be hired, my first question was exactly yours--what the hell is an "authentic" ethnic restaurant. Restaurants are good, bad, in between, better or worse than others. But this whole authenticity thing is BS. As to whether or not a restaurant is faithful to a particular ethic characteristic, take a run through Waverly Root's The Food of Italy. So which of 473 ethnic variations do you want to call "Authentic Italian"?

                                                                              1. re: Masonville

                                                                                There is such a thing as "authentic" !(ok Striver -maybe I didnt need to ad the "real" bit!" LOL)

                                                                                1. re: NellyNel

                                                                                  No problem - just having some fun. :)

                                                                                  But seriously, there are so many local variations on any cuisine that "authentic" is very hard to pin down outside your own village - and even where cooking methods may be traditional (maybe a better word - maybe), ingredients can vary significantly from locale to locale within a country, let alone from one country to another - particularly one with a very different geography. So finding complete "authenticity" outside a given locality is - IMO - generally not possible. If I want truly authentic Venetian cuisine, for example, I need to go to Venice. Oh, there may be a good Venetian restaurant around on its own terms, but unless it's importing everything from the Venice area, it's not going to be totally authentic (and even if is, there'll be a difference in freshness and consequently in flavor).

                                                                                  That said, the bottom line for me is that "authentic" is no guarantee of goodness. A creative chef's take on a traditional cuisine can be more interesting and tastier than an "authentic" one - or not; certainly there's no guarantee in either case.

                                                                                  Unless I'm doing research on culinary anthropology or exercising general curiosity, I'm most interested in where the food is really good; authenticity is a distant second for me. I'm even less interested in who's serving it to me, so long as they know their job and handle it well.

                                                                                  1. re: Striver

                                                                                    Technically, striver I do agree with you on all points..

                                                                                    I simply use the word "authentic" as an easier way of saying:
                                                                                    The menu is in Spanish, the servers don't speak english, the soda's are all brands you won't find at Pathmark, the cooks and patrons are all Mexican...and the food you will eat isnt anything that you would find at the places that serve Frozen Margarita's!!!....
                                                                                    It's "real" authentic!! ha ha ha

                                                                                    1. re: NellyNel

                                                                                      OK, no question you have a point there. It's a real downer when the waitress assures you the restaurant is authentic Italian and then corrects your pronunciation of balsamic to "baldasamic". (Yes, it happened.)

                                                                                    2. re: Striver

                                                                                      Do you go up to the Museum of Art and complain that they should take down the name? What is art? Or justice, or love? Really, all these words have definitions. If they are hard to pin down then so be it. Just about any subject in the world is 'hard to pin down' once you know more about it.

                                                                                      The word still exists and is very useful for everyone I have ever met.

                                                                                      As for the topic of this thread, discrimination on the basis of ability is the only kind that is acceptable to me.

                                                                                      Practically speaking, I would think that many managers of ethnic restaurants, be they French, Thai or Chinese would want their staff to have good language skills. If they have that and are good waiters and have a good employment record, I don't see any reason not to hire someone of a different ethnicity.

                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                        Even residents of the same place of origin can disagree on what it means - just ask someone where they can find "authentic" nyc pizza in Brooklyn if you want to start an argument - or whether an "authentic" Philly cheesesteak does or does not require Cheez Whiz. If it's hard to define what's "authentic" even within a cuisine's location of origin, it's close to impossilbe to define it - or find it - thousands of miles away.

                                                                                        Sure there's a definition of the word in general, and it's very useful in certain cases, like identifying whether the "Rolex" watch offerred by a street vendor is or is not authentic, or authenticating an object in reference to time, place, and date of origin for the purposes of valuation, but I find the word's utility particularly weak when it comes to food.

                                                                                        OTOH, I completely agree with you that the ethnicity of the staff is irrelevant.

                                                                                        1. re: Striver

                                                                                          That's why most authenticity threads on Chow become so damn repetitive, and no conclusion is ever found.... >zzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz<

                                                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                                                            No conclusion is ever found because people ignore my point - that like art or justice or love - it doesn't have to be easy to define to be extremely valid and useful. When a Chinese person asks me where they can find authentic Chinese food in Washington, DC I know exactly where to send them.

                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                              Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Cantonese.... how would you know which 'authentic' Chinese food they're looking for?

                                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                When people ask the general question (as opposed to "where can I get great dim sum"), they are probably up for anything. I don't give out blanket recommendations, only suggesting particular dishes. If they don't want it, then they can make that decision.

                                                                                                In the DC area, I have about six places I can recommend at least partially, one Hunan, one Northern, two Sichuan, and two Hong Kong. And even then you have to look at the specials to get most of the best stuff.

                                                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                                                  Steve, Steve, "up for anything" is not "authentic." You need to get much, much more info, to really help them. I mean latitude and longitude, and down to the seconds.

                                                                                                  Good luck,

                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                            2. re: linguafood

                                                                                              Yes, there ARE a lot of them, and "authentic" to me, might not even come close to you, or to others.

                                                                                              Hey, how about a thread on "authentic" mole in Mexican cuisine? Oh wait, we have had that, and it turns out that almost every household in Mexico has a slightly different recipe, even in the same city, in the same state! Gosh, how could that happen?

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                            3. re: Striver

                                                                                              Striver,

                                                                                              I agree with you. I frequent the New Orleans Board, and "gumbo" comes up often. Usually, the term "authentic" is close behind. Well, I have had "authentic gumbo, that ranged from clear broth w/ a few tiny shrimp over rice, to a concoction, that was black and so heavy, that one would have to eat it with a fork. Each was "authentic" per the region, and the family recipe, yet they differed across the full spectrum.

                                                                                              Now, I had the pleasure to enjoy them all. My wife's great recipe runs more to the dense and dark, but that almost clear broth with but herbs, shrimp and rice, was excellent too. Different, in nearly all respects, but each was "authentic."

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                2. I know what you’re asking ipsedixit, and in my opinion I’d say no, the staff need not be of the same ethnicity in order to produce authentic food. Appearance-wise, it may “feel” more authentic to see Peruvians behind the counter of a Peruvian resto, but who’s to say a very talented Irish chef can’t cook authentic Peruvian?

                                                                                  A local, now-closed Indian restaurant Bombay Bistro, employed a Colombian staff and cooks. The owner taught these men how to prepare authentic Indian cuisine and I must say they did it very well.

                                                                                  1. The ethnicity of the wait staff (or the cooks or even daresay the owner) has little to do with a restaurants authenticity or quality (by the way, I will go for quality over "authenticity" any day!)

                                                                                    My experience is that th reason you will see Chinese (or Mexican, or Polish, or whatever) waiters at Chinese (or Mexican, or Polish, or whatever) restaurants is because these are family business.

                                                                                    Dad is in back cooking, mom is seating guests, daughters waitressing, sons busing tables and washing dishes, and grandma tending bar. When relatives emigrate to US or Canada, the restaurant is often the only job they can get. Strangely enough, all of these people are Chinese (or Mexican, or Polish, or whatever).

                                                                                    But that doesn't make the restaurant authentic. They are subject to the same price pressures and will cut whatever corners they need to take to keep the business open.

                                                                                    Authentic only happens when you have a restaurant owned and staffed by people committed to authentic ingredients and cooking techniques, AND clientèle willing to spend the $$$ to keep the doors open.

                                                                                    1. Irony of ironies... I have yet to see a non-Chinese working behind the counter of a Kelly's Cajun Grill (USA)/Bourbon St. Grill (Canada)...

                                                                                      For those who aren't familiar, this is a disgusting excuse of a food court chain that passes off junk Chinese food as Cajun... complete with soy sauce packets at the cash registers!

                                                                                      1. I don't think it's necessary. A *language* requirement might be reasonable, to speak to the chef, or if the restaurant caters to a non English speaking clientele.

                                                                                        Mind you, I"m going to an American restaurant tonight, and I can guarantee you that all the servers *and* cooks will be Taiwanese.

                                                                                        1. Generally, I agree with goodhealthgourmet: "as long as servers are knowledgeable about the food they're serving and possess sufficient English language skills to communicate with me effectively, i don't care if they're striped, polka-dotted, have three heads, or were born on a planet in another galaxy."

                                                                                          However, I have to admit that if the servers appear to be of a different ethnic background than of the food being served, I think that, like ipsedixit, my foodar will be on higher alert for "issues."

                                                                                          In the case of ethnic cuisine that I am very unfamiliar with, in particular, it can sometimes be helpful for the servers to provide information that someone who does not have that ethnic experience would have.
                                                                                          "When I was growing up, my grandmother used to prepare this dish on special occasions. I remember she would always tell us that the most important thing for preparing a good pot was xxx."
                                                                                          "In English this is called xxx, but where I grew up, it was called xxx. Actually, in the north of the country you pronounce it xxx, but in the south and east it is called xxx."
                                                                                          "Traditionally, in our country, we never eat xxx and xxx at the same time. You might have xxx first, and follow it with xxx, but you would never serve both on the plate together."

                                                                                          Extremely well-trained staff might be able to impart similar information regardless of their own ethnic origins and family traditions, but it seems much more likely that you would hear these kinds of things from a server whose own family lived that particular ethnic experience. And it just seems to feel more "authentic" hearing information of this sort come from the mouth of someone who seems to fit the part. (Of course, having the "appropriate" ethnic background is no guarantee that the server will be any better prepared than anyone else to share this kind of information, or to be a good server in other regards.)

                                                                                          1. "Authentic" is an interesting subject. It is filled with many "slippery slopes," and not all lead to the ultimate end.

                                                                                            I seldom get too hung up on "authenticity," as that can mean so many things, and to so many different people.

                                                                                            How far would one take it? I mean if a restaurant specializes in the Mexican fare of the state of Jalisco, the owner is from Jalisco. The chef is from Jalisco, but the server is from Vera Cruz. Does not cut into the "authenticity?

                                                                                            What if it's a French restaurant (the OP), and the owner and chef are from France, but the server is from New Jersey, but studied at The Sobonne for six years, and lived in Paris for nine?

                                                                                            What about a French restaurant, where the chef is from Vera Cruz, but studied culinary arts in Calais? Can he/she cook French food?

                                                                                            I only care about great food, and good service, and seldom check the documentation of the servers, or the rest of the kitchen staff. The food and service should speak for themselves.

                                                                                            Maybe that is just me?

                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                              "What if it's a French restaurant (the OP), and the owner and chef are from France, but the server is from New Jersey, but studied at The Sobonne for six years, and lived in Paris for nine?"

                                                                                              The only problem with that scenario is its extreme rarity (speaking from a US-centric perspective, that is), especially outside the fine-dining realm, and even moreso if you exclude French, and maybe Spanish and Italian restaurants.

                                                                                              Usually if it's, say, an Indian restaurant, with Indian (or Indian-American) chef, but with servers whose backgrounds are apparently not Indian/Indian-American, chances are that the servers didn't get advanced degrees in India and live for years, cooking food of a quality that others would buy it, in India. Typically, those who have had the resources that permitted them to live abroad for extended periods like that won't be going for jobs as servers.

                                                                                              1. re: racer x

                                                                                                Um-m-m, not so odd, as you might think. Upthread, I mention a favorite French restaurant of ours, with about that mix, however with a bit of "artistic license."

                                                                                                Just dined at a wonderful "Native American" restaurant, and the only Five-Diamond, Five-Star restaurant in the Phoenix area. Some servers were Native American, but not all. The sommelier was not Native American, but from the US. The chef is not Native American, but truly understand the cuisine. The dishes rely heavily on the traditions of the tribes, and many of the elements are sourced from tribal lands, grown and harvested in a "native manner."

                                                                                                An exception? Maybe, but maybe not.

                                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                            2. I was once at an "authentic" Chinese restaurant, in San Francisco. The chefs, the serves, the dishwashers, the valet and even the hostess, were all Chinese. None spoke a word of English. However, the gentleman in the bathroom, the one who hands out towels, was definitely Mexican. That ruined my entire dining experience. I mean what WERE they thinking?

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                What, you never heard of affirmative action?

                                                                                                Heh.

                                                                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                  Yes, that is probably the explanation of the hiring situation...

                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                              2. I live in a place where it's very common for the literal mom&pop restaurants to be run by interracial couples. With the Thai places, it's a black guy or a white guy who married a Thai woman when he was in the service and they ended up running a nice little takeout place when he retired to civilian life. With one of the better sushi places in town, the white guy went over to Japan to study sushi there and came back to the States happily married to a nice Japanese woman.

                                                                                                Given how fairly common Asian interracial couples are here in general, it never really occurred to me to think that the presence of a white guy as part of the restaurant staff family is somehow supposed to make a restaurant less authentic, whatever that's supposed to mean.

                                                                                                1. I havent read through every word of all the responses you have received, so I dont known if this point has already been made or not. But for me, a better sign of a restaurant's 'authenticity' is not who is serving or even cooking the food, but who is eating the food. I find it encouraging to go into any Asian restaurant and see people of Asian descent dining there.

                                                                                                  [Admittedly, I cant walk into a French restaurant and tell who is French. And I also cannot tell a person from Korea apart from a person from Vietnam just by looking. And I SURELY dont want to make this into ANY kind of race/ethnicity profiling discussion. But I hope you all understand my point.]

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Fydeaux

                                                                                                    "a better sign of a restaurant's 'authenticity' is not who is serving or even cooking the food, but who is eating the food" Exactly!

                                                                                                    I'm not such a connoisseur (or snob) that I really care if the food is "authentic." It just has to be interesting and taste good. And since I haven't been to some of the places whose cuisine I love (Morocco comes to mind), I don't really know whether what I'm eating is authentic.

                                                                                                    1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                      Yes, "authentic" can have many connotations. A resident of Mexico, from Jalisco, might rightfully claim that a Mexican restaurant, featuring the cuisine of Vera Cruz (Orizaba) is NOT "authentic," when it is, but to another state in that country.

                                                                                                      I am with you, in that "authentic" takes a back-seat to great.

                                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                                    2. re: Fydeaux

                                                                                                      Yes, your point is understood and is fine. A comment here, though - the worthiness of the food served in such restaurants may be relative to what is available in the locality. A restaurant may be but ho-hum or mediocre by comparison with other places in more well-serviced cities - yet be the best or amongst the better places where it happens to be located, so when one sees a large proportion of "native" clientele in the place it may be a reflection of the fact that the place is the best that the local area can come up with, as distinct from the place being an epitome of what the cuisine should be in the best sense.

                                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                                          "the place is the best that the local area can come up with, as distinct from the place being an epitome of what the cuisine should be in the best sense."

                                                                                                          Point well taken; and the best that the local area can come up with is OK by me. As Duke Ellington was noted for saying, "I'm very easy to please! Just give me the best of everything possible."

                                                                                                      1. There is a small chain of family owned Mexican Restaurants on Long Island that only seems to have Columbian workers. The food is good and the service is spectacular.
                                                                                                        Most sushi restaurants have servers from China and Singapore. One of the chefs may be Japanese. One of my favorite Manhattan sushi places has one or two Japanese chefs and a South American sushi chef. Go figure?
                                                                                                        I speak passable Spanish and try to converse with the Spanish speaking servers to keep sharp. Lately I've gotten the deer in the headlight look and "I am Bengali, sir" OOPS! Lo siento mucho!
                                                                                                        I love Ceci Cela in SOHO and enjoy hearing the French accent of the baker and helpers. Makes it seem more authentic when I eat my fabulous croissant and cafe au lait. One of the servers is Asian but speaks fluent French and English with a French accent. Probably Parisian!
                                                                                                        Sorry for rambling, it's all good!

                                                                                                        1. In Chicago we have a large and popular Persian (Iranian) restaurant that used to have platoons of young Iranian men working as servers. They were good at the job and gave a great air of authenticity to the place. Shortly after 9-11 when I ate there our server was a young Croatian woman. I asked her what had happened to the young men. Her answer: "They to their country back have went.".

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                            She must have been channeling Yoda.

                                                                                                          2. Tournesol is a great restaurant so whatever they're doing is working.

                                                                                                            1. Just got back from McDonalds. I asked everyone. Not one Scottish worker in the place!

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: Motosport

                                                                                                                Did you apply the One-Drop Rule? ;-) :-P

                                                                                                              2. This is a little off topic, but it is about discrimination in hiring due to ethnic origin. There was a fast food place near where I live that got in trouble with the department of human services (or whatever the state agency is that deals with discrimination). The owner of the fast food place would hire only 'Mexican-Mexicans' and not U.S. born people of Mexican heritage. He thought the immigrants worked harder than those that were born in his city. Needless to say, he got into a bit of trouble.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                  There was a Seinfeld episode where all of the waitresses in a Greek restaurant happened to be voluptuous. Elaine felt it was discrimination and applied for a job and was turned down so she filed a civil rights complaint. Turns out all of the women were the bosses daughters.