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Where do foreign waiters come from?


Kent Wang
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I was at Benoit in New York recently and all three staff that I interacted with, waitress, sommelier, and host, had thick French accents. Where do they come from? Were they hired locally, or were they hired in France and transferred over here?

Since Benoit is part of Alain Ducasse's empire, and there is a Benoit in Paris, the latter seems rather likely. In order to lure them to go overseas, were they offered a higher wage than what they have been paid in French restaurants? If so, would the wage be higher than if they were to have simply hired New York locals?

Certainly it helps an ethnic (including European) restaurant's image to have staff that look, act, and speak like they're from the country that the restaurant is. But to what degree do restaurants take to hiring this kind of staff?

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At a Ducasse restaurant it's typical for the management team to be European. The managers at the Ducasse group's restaurants do stints all over the world. A server, it depends. But bear in mind that your server could easily have been from some other European country like Switzerland or Belgium, or even from South America. I've spoken to at least two South American servers who have told me that people consistently assume they're French.

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I work in England at a 2 Michelin star restaurant. One of the first things I got asked by a guest was 'How come they let you work here and you're not French?'.

In the restaurant, foreign staff are the norm. The exact reasons for this I have never asked, but I would say that they generally have a greater passion and wish to do well and progress. In foreign countries like France, working in a restaurant is also seen in a much higher regard than here in England I think. I'm sure it helps that the restaurant is French too!

But it is always something that has puzzled me, as I find being English, I can converse with the guests much more easily than a foreign member of staff (regardless of their seniority), and I think that is important.

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All the staff at Ippudo New York seemed to be Japanese, so that's an example of it happening at the lower end of restaurants. I'm pretty sure they were Japanese and not Korean or Chinese as the Japanese accent is fairly distinguishable from the others -- for me at least.

Do you think restaurants engage in discriminatory hiring practices to hire ethnic locals? I suppose they can get away with it by advertising that the applicants need to speak the respective language, even though at a fancy French or Italian place, the customers will always use English.

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