I’d like everyone to take the time today to raise a glass to the food service employees of the world.

How many times have you been out for dinner when the food was mediocre at best but the service MADE the meal? Or a phenomenal dinner has been raised to sublime by the quality of the service?

That’s just the service we see: the “front of the house” staff whose job it is to make us feel intelligent,special, valued. A long retired veteran of service myself, I admit to sometimes taking that kind of thing for granted. After all, IT’S THEIR JOB to provide good service, right?

Well… I have had the pleasure of many, many dining experiences, from “fine” to “basic”, where the employees from front of house to back have worked exceptionally as a team to elevate the experience. From the care taken in preparing and plating the food to the genuinely friendly and helpful service. I was in a “family” restaurant yesterday in Vallejo, California. Burgers, omelettes, that kind of thing (not even licensed, much to Jim’s horror and dismay!). it could have been scary – bad part of town and all that – but the staff made it awesome. And it paid off. The place was packed, on a sleepy Friday afternoon in an area closely resembling a ghost town.

It should be recognized, though, that the food service employees I’ve mentioned so far at least have a chance of reaping a reward – in the form of gratuities or a share in them – for their service. but as I discussed on “National Food Checkout Day” (you’ll have to do a search for it; I’m currently blogging from the hotel bathroom on my Blackberry), the very inexpensive food we enjoy in North America comes with a very high social (and environmental) cost.

That cost is borne by “invisible” food service employees working for subsistence or starvation wages. Often these are recent immigrants without whose “unskilled” and poorly-remunerated labour the entire “cheap food” system depends.

What can we do about it? There is no easy answer. As discussed earlier, we have to steel ourselves to pay the REAL cost of what we consume. This may mean living slightly less “large”. We also have to resist further efforts to drive down the minimum wage. Support public education. I could go on. The point is, we KNOW there are real social costs to a cheap hamburger at a fast food joint. We’ve heard it all before. We just have to start making choices instead of blithely pretending everything’s ok.

In the meantime, raise a glass with me to all of the food service employees you’ve benefitted from in your lifetime. If you ARE a food service employee, raise a glass for yourself.

And the next time you go out for dinner, look at the food on your plate (or the burger in its wrapper) and think of how much it really cost.

~ Eva