There Is No Dining Room - Only Zuul
October 25, 2019 11:19 AM   Subscribe

The growth of app-based gig delivery firms has opened up new ancillary markets - restaurants seeing their kitchens overwhelmed are turning to so called "dark" or "ghost" kitchens - kitchens with no attached dining space, catering to delivery orders. This move has even major chains looking to dive in, either by partnering with kitchen operators like the rather on the nose named Zuul Kitchens, or by opening their own, as Wendy's is planning.

Hat tip to SansPoint for the mention in the WeWork thread.
posted by NoxAeternum (57 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is no dine-in, only Zuul.

(edit: beaten to the punch by the very post title, by God. 🤦‍♂️)
posted by letourneau at 11:21 AM on October 25, 2019 [15 favorites]


Thanks for the shout-out!
posted by SansPoint at 11:26 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


what if the medium place, but for food?

joke stolen from another mefite, but i can't find the thread where it was originally used
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:27 AM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


How long till some delivery company buys a space for tables near multiple ghost kitchens and makes bank conveying orders a couple hundred metres for the regular delivery fee. They could call the locations The Food Court.
posted by Mitheral at 11:30 AM on October 25, 2019 [32 favorites]


I'm all for this because it's getting really annoying to walk into some places and stand there while the staff is scrambling to finish orders for all the drivers that are waiting around at the pickup desk. Some chains are worse than others for this (cough cough chipotle)

In this grumpy old guy's view it's like you're indirectly (AND sometimes directly) telling physical customers they don't matter any more.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:43 AM on October 25, 2019 [7 favorites]


Funny you mention food courts, because my first thought was that some of those "dead" suburban shopping malls with big food courts, containing multiple (in some cases, dozens) of commercial-grade food prep kitchens, wouldn't be a bad place to use as a delivery hub.

You basically turn the whole concept inside out, and use the back hallways that you normally use to bring ingredients in to send delivery orders out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:45 AM on October 25, 2019 [27 favorites]


This reminds me very much of things like tiffin deliveries. I don't think it's a bad idea at all; the big consumer risk here, though, would be restaurants misrepresenting their business operations.

The part of all this that confuses me, really, is the prevalence of fairly high end (around here I guess I mean more than $100 for a dinner for two) restaurants participating in these delivery schemes. I feel like, if I'm paying that much for a meal I'm also expecting a certain level of ambience and service - I don't want to eat that kind of food out of a styrofoam container.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:53 AM on October 25, 2019 [12 favorites]


🎶Ghost Kitchens in the Hood.
posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


Honestly, as long as the treatment of employees and the sanitary conditions aren't worse than standard kitchens, this seems like a pretty good idea.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:57 AM on October 25, 2019 [9 favorites]


if I'm paying that much for a meal I'm also expecting a certain level of ambience and service - I don't want to eat that kind of food out of a styrofoam container.

Assuming the delivery time isn't too high, I'd prefer the option of eating haute cuisine at home. I can think of a lot of restaurants with excellent food but intolerable dining areas, particularly the acoustics - loud, shitty music and/or high levels of ambient noise making conversation impossible.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:01 PM on October 25, 2019 [11 favorites]


the big consumer risk here, though, would be restaurants misrepresenting their business operations.

How so? I mean, as a customer, why do I care whether the Wendy's that I'm getting the food from is a "real" Wendy's with a dining room, or just a detached kitchen? It's the same food either way, and presumably the same inspection/sanitation standards. I'd imagine the place is probably cleaner without having the employees deal with customers, handle money, clean bathrooms, wipe tables, etc.

What I find interesting is that this isn't that new an idea; some takeout places have been like this for years. There was a Chinese place near my college that did a huge delivery business and was located in what could charitably be called an industrial park. Definitely no eating area, and the one time I did a to-go rather than delivery order was awkward. Perfectly good food, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on October 25, 2019 [8 favorites]


How so?

I was thinking more along the lines of independent restaurants using secondary kitchens and potentially cutting corners to meet the increased delivery demand. For example - it's not a delivery business, but a local fine dining establishment that focuses on local ingredients recently opened an outpost in a new food hall. They were upfront in interviews about the changes they needed to make to make the stall financially viable (they can't use the herbs and microgreens that they grow in the restaurant, for example, so they buy them from a distributor), but many of the dishes are named the same as in the restaurant and there's not a good indication at the stall that there are any differences at all.

To be fair, the prices at the stall are significantly different than the sit-down restaurant, but if you're doing something like that with your delivery business, charging the same as the restaurant, and not advertising the differences then I would have a problem with that.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:12 PM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


What I find interesting is that this isn't that new an idea; some takeout places have been like this for years.

That's what I was thinking -- isn't this more or less the entire business model for most pizza and Chinese food sold in the U.S.?
posted by Etrigan at 12:13 PM on October 25, 2019 [7 favorites]


One of these opened up near me recently. It's the offshoot of a restaurant that's been around for years and that I already know to have good food, plus they have a no-minimums, no-delivery-fee, no-tipping policy. I've ordered from there twice in three weeks and I never order delivery -- those were the first delivery orders I've had in over a year. If more places would follow this model and wrap the fee and tip into the entree prices (and have a low or no minimum order), I would order far more often. It's only me, so it's pretty hard to meet a $25 minimum.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:20 PM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


isn't the *true* In-n-out or Sonic dining room actually your car?
posted by a halcyon day at 12:20 PM on October 25, 2019 [11 favorites]


I Sold Microwave Meals On Deliveroo

You don't even need a kitchen, just a microwave. I admire this too much to call it a scam. Seems like the people get what they want.

That was the result of a quick ddg search btw. That youtuber isn't the only one to have the idea.
posted by adept256 at 12:46 PM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


Honestly, as long as the treatment of employees and the sanitary conditions aren't worse than standard kitchens, this seems like a pretty good idea.

I bet it will be worse; the brief glimpse of sunlight when the kitchen door swings open is doing a lot of preventative disinfection work as it is. The kinds of abuse managers can scream at their vulnerable cooks is still limited by the fact that a customer might be walking by. I am not looking forward to the horror stories coming from these food mines.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:55 PM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


isn't the *true* In-n-out or Sonic dining room actually your car?

Or McDonald's? They're up to 65-70% of traffic never entering the store and only using the drive-thru. How long before they give up the "third place" goal of being a neighborhood gathering spot and killing their dining rooms altogether, focusing only on drive-thru and delivery orders?
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:56 PM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


The "ghost kitchens" also take care of another problem, which is that the waiting areas of restaurants are being filled up with all these gig drivers who get in the way of other diners.

Yeah just optimize the entire process! The delivery person drives up to a parking spot, lets the ghost kitchen know they've arrived and then the food gets brought out to them. Might look something like this?
posted by jeremias at 1:00 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


This whole thing is outrageous. Zuul was a demi-god and a minion of Gozer the Gozerian, famously not a ghost.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:12 PM on October 25, 2019 [33 favorites]


It would be nice if these things could be priced appropriately so that the restaurants could hire the delivery people, paying them a predictable wage and possibly even *gasp* some form of benefits plus contributing to their social security.
posted by Frowner at 1:31 PM on October 25, 2019 [16 favorites]


Or at least if the third-party delivery services were worker-owned cooperatives like in Strongest Deliveryman.
posted by asperity at 1:41 PM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


I dunno, the reverse food court / industrial kitchen sounds like a pretty decent idea in my limited experience in decent large kitchens. (university dining services and a large bakery.) If you get to that scale, say you have more professional cooks vs teenagers (who are help), the floors / equipment get pressure washed instead of mopped / scrubbed, the freezers are need a coat and gloves cold, the dishwasher takes a minute and puts out plates and silverware so hot you can't touch them. You also get to cook at scale where that little error when you're making 1 thing is a catastrophe, but the same little error when you're making 100 things is undetectable. (It's way easier to make 150 pounds of dough and get it right than to make 1 pound of dough where if you add just a smidgen too much of something it's ruined.)

Anyways, it's a lot easier if your design is purely kitchen vs kitchen and dining ala your corner or strip-mall food place. Different design constraints. Whether it will be taken advantage of in a good way or a bad way sorta just depends I guess.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:48 PM on October 25, 2019 [9 favorites]


if I'm paying that much for a meal I'm also expecting a certain level of ambience and service - I don't want to eat that kind of food out of a styrofoam container.

I definitely felt more like this when I lived somewhere where it was feasible to walk into a restaurant and be seated more or less right away (and was also at least 10 years younger than my grouchy old ass is now), but now that we're in LA:
a) restaurants can't stay in business in LA if they ever have an empty table for a minute*
b) they've got shit parking, always
c) I pay at least half my income in rent and so have made my home extremely comfy and cozy because we don't really get vacations and stuff, so we're pretty happy eating at home where we can hear each other
d) only one person has to wear decent pants to open the door
e) drinks in my house run, what? 10% of restaurant prices? 5%?
f) almost no talking to another person is required

So, it's true that not all food delivers well - like we rarely get anything fried because it will steam itself soggy, except one Thai place that cuts their boxes in ingenious ways to vent but stay relatively warm - but because it is LA we have a huge array of options. We do re-plate most things rather than eating out of containers, and most restaurants actually do a great job packing to-go so it gets to us in a decent state, including garnishes and such.

*a pretty popular local sushi chain opened an izakaya a couple doors down from one of the sushi locations, less than two miles from us, and we *adored* the place because the food was fantastic but also because it never really achieved weeknight crowds, which meant it was quiet and pleasant, which meant it was doomed.

We don't have a huge budget for eating out so only order once or twice a month, and I'm also pretty frustrated with the scammy bullshit grubhub et al pull, I would absolutely direct more money at a storefront-less kitchen making good food and operating their own delivery, if that turns out to be a thing. All I require is online ordering, please don't make me talk to anybody.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:55 PM on October 25, 2019 [6 favorites]


The Machine Stops
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:10 PM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


I realize this about restaurants without a dining space, but even at home I can't remember any time as an adult I've ever used a dining room at home. I've always just eaten where I sit, typically at my desk, or when stuck in smaller dwelling spaces, my bed-desk.

Regarding drive-through, can't stand em. It feels so foolish sitting in a line of running cars just waiting to place an order when you can walk inside and immediately do so.

Delivery services are simply too expensive, usually doubling the cost of whatever I order, and the delivery process ensures a worse meal. Plus part of restaurant meals factors in the cost of service, service I can't get when some poor sap has to ruin their car to get barely paid to bring my lazyass food I could've gathered myself.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:26 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Regarding drive-through, can't stand em. It feels so foolish sitting in a line of running cars just waiting to place an order when you can walk inside and immediately do so.

This used to be my strategy as well. My rule of thumb is if you saw more than 5-6 cars in the drive-thru line just park and go inside - you'll find the counter inside is empty.

Except now I see the crew inside scrambling to keep the DT line moving and the counter orders take a lower priority. You're not going anywhere, right? So that plan went out the window.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:46 PM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


Except now I see the crew inside scrambling to keep the DT line moving and the counter orders take a lower priority. You're not going anywhere, right? So that plan went out the window.

That does happen sometimes. I hate using the kiosk thingies so I always try and do counter, last time I was at McDs though, a worker pointedly asked that I use the kiosk because they were all too busy. I was annoyed with their management for understaffing this store which is nearly always busy day and night, but whatever -- I just went somewhere else, woulda felt bad to inconvenience them further if they're already overloaded. Even when I do choose to wait, I feel better waiting inside on my phone safely rather than in a line huffing and puffing car exhaust.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:04 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Prioritizing drive-thru over in restaurant customers was routine even 30 years ago when I was working fast food. Depending on the relative traffic in vs out it can still be faster to walk in but many places when it is busy the drive thru will be turning over faster than in store customers even if the average time is shorter inside.
posted by Mitheral at 3:14 PM on October 25, 2019


It’s the offshoot of a restaurant that's been around for years and that I already know to have good food, plus they have a no-minimums, no-delivery-fee, no-tipping policy.

I would patronize the hell out of a place like this, and I don’t think I’m alone.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:21 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Or McDonald's? They're up to 65-70% of traffic never entering the store and only using the drive-thru. How long before they give up the "third place" goal of being a neighborhood gathering spot and killing their dining rooms altogether, focusing only on drive-thru and delivery orders?

There's a McDonalds right off the 110/5 in Los Angeles that's like that right now.

As an aside, my bro-in-law has a dozen or so McDonalds, and he hates the UberEats/DoorDash/whatever stuff. He barely breaks even on the orders (the customers aren't paying the full cost of delivery, plus the service takes their cut), and the food is cold and terrible by the time the customer gets it anyway. He jettison the whole thing if he could, but corporate forces all the operators to support it.
posted by sideshow at 3:45 PM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


To some degree, we've been seeing the opposite happen here (Durham, NC).

Durham got in early on the food truck boom. It had the most liberal (and cheapest) food vending permits in our three-county megalopolis, and was situated squarely in the middle, geographically. The others all mostly have stricter (and more expensive) food vending permits. And Durham also benefited from a local entrepreneur setting up a business incubator specifically for food trucks; they've launched dozens that've started with incubator backing and access to the incubator's kitchens to prepare the day's food.

And once those food trucks become successful and spin off into their own fully-fledged businesses, they need their own prep kitchens, which means leasing space somewhere that's not too inconvenient and setting up kitchens. And eventually they're realizing that they're paying rent on those kitchens and only using them for three-four hours a day while they're off in their trucks, so they turn them into sit-down restaurants that might start as adjuncts to their truck business but become their own second food service operations. In at least one case a successful food truck has spun off not just one but two sit-down restaurants.
posted by ardgedee at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


so... these are basically, uh, Zuul pods?
posted by what does it eat, light? at 4:50 PM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


and the food is cold and terrible by the time the customer gets it anyway.

Planet Money recently had an episode on the future of French fries. When drive-throughs became a thing the fast food places had to figure out how to make fries last longer, since people went from eating at the restaurant to eating at home maybe ten minutes later; since the time lag on delivery is maybe half an hour they're trying to extend how long fries last again.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:20 PM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


The best fries (aka chips) taste delicious after being wrapped in newspaper/a cardboard box and steamed a little.
posted by jb at 9:52 PM on October 25, 2019


How so? I mean, as a customer, why do I care whether the Wendy's that I'm getting the food from is a "real" Wendy's with a dining room, or just a detached kitchen? It's the same food either way, and presumably the same inspection/sanitation standards. I'd imagine the place is probably cleaner without having the employees deal with customers, handle money, clean bathrooms, wipe tables, etc.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that Wendy's cleans their dining rooms. I used to love Wendy's but have stopped going in the last 10 years because they are consistently just too filthy.
posted by srboisvert at 4:33 AM on October 26, 2019


Who are all these people ordering food every night? How f’ing hard is it to make dinner?
posted by spitbull at 6:05 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


> as long as the treatment of employees and the sanitary conditions aren't worse than standard kitchens

Guardian article from a couple years ago about deliveroo's shipping container kitchens. It doesn't sound much fun, but whether it's worse than in-restaurant I don't know.
posted by lucidium at 6:10 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Who are all these people ordering food every night? How f’ing hard is it to make dinner?
People with long or irregular working hours. People who have to commute several light years to get home every night because they work in a city with a property market that's unaffordable. Getting home at 7-8pm, by the time you've prepared and cooked a meal, eaten it and cleared up, it's time for bed which leaves very little time for anything else.

I tend to batch cook on weekends and freeze food so I've got a low-effort but home-cooked meal on nights where I'm late home, but ordering in is equally valid.
posted by winterhill at 6:19 AM on October 26, 2019 [6 favorites]


You know what would be neat, assuming that various forces ever make big social change? George Orwell suggests in one of his columns (in the forties, no less!) that a meal subscription service, locally run, would be a huge boon to everyone. A meal subscription service could probably be run like a worker co-op if you had the right population density, because it could be really predictable - on Mondays X number of people want a main and a side, and of those Y want the vegan main and Z want the meat main, and we'll staff from 2pm to nine to cover cooking, delivery and clean-up.

Or a subscription dining hall, like a dorm but not terrible. Orwell was a big fan of the British Restaurants that were built during WWII to feed large numbers of people after the bombing and when people were being mobilized all around the country. Obviously the food wasn't overwhelmingly great because of rationing, but they worked as well as you could expect given the circumstances.

The key parts would be making it predictable so you could staff it, partially subsidizing it and/or using the ones from richer locales to prop up the ones in poorer spots and setting up the tax deal. You could create jobs - good jobs, with benefits. Kitchen work can be pretty decent if you're not under the gun, or at least that was my experience of it. You could provide a couple of big, decent-quality mains every night, salad, couple of sides, maybe a simple sandwich bar for people who wanted to make a sandwich. And then, for instance, let's say that you have a family and you want a couple of nights off from cooking every week but you don't want to have frozen pizza and healthy delivery is expensive, so you can sign up for Mondays and Thursdays and just go down to the old Neighborhood Cafeteria and everyone gets something along the lines of channa masala or a pasta bake and maybe a scoop of some kind of lightly marinated fresh vegetable salad and boom, everyone has a perfectly acceptable dinner.

There is so much necessary work in society which doesn't get done. There are lots of jobs in the sense of "could we pay people to make life better and easier". There's no shortage of jobs, just a surplus of greedy rich people who want to take a bigger and bigger share of profits.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on October 26, 2019 [20 favorites]


Like, imagine if we had a National Institute for Food, staffed by working class people who had access to the education and training needed to make national scale decisions and they could just...provide ways to feed people. No more random state by state town by town if you live in one place it's okay and if you live in another the food pantry will only allow you two visits a month and there's only one food pantry in town. Imagine if we had a government where the kind of people who go into the civil service seeking a good job helping people actually ran the state.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 AM on October 26, 2019 [9 favorites]


The subscription dining hall is exactly how work camp food is provided. The food can be good (very good I've heard though I've never stayed at a camp where I'd describe it that way) to ... not so good. Camp food is pretty expensive to provide but I'm not sure how much of that is because of the camp aspect. It also doesn't vary much which is something that could be better. There isn't any reason that a large dining hall couldn't have a couple three different lines for different types of food. They don't because because the clientele is captive.

Also it must be pretty bad and or poorly paid work. Even though most of the camps I've stayed at were union they were staffed in large part by foreign workers.
posted by Mitheral at 7:23 AM on October 26, 2019


I would fucking love that, Frowner, and it’s a tragedy British Restaurants were closed down. There are such amazing economies of scale you could have with neighbourhood non-profit canteens, and you could use technology in a humane way to make the food better and more affordable.
posted by adrianhon at 7:28 AM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


I’ve been advocating for a city run version of this that sources from local farms and provided at cost, kind of city wide CSA meets socialist postmates.

Edit: Jinx Frowner
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


The other thing is that a lot of restaurant food, even expensive restaurant food, is kind of gross. Applebees and Perkins and so on...often kind of gross, unless you get french fries or fried eggs and toast or something very simple. A lot of restaurant food of the "this is a chain, here is a 'gourmet' sandwich with eight kinds of meat dusted with pomegranate powder and topped with wasabi mayo" variety is kind of gross. It's just kind of gross and expensive and bad for the planet and bad for workers. "This is a good-enough, reasonably healthy pasta-bake at a price I can afford" would be a huge improvement over an awful lot of cheap restaurant and grocery-store-deli food.
posted by Frowner at 10:30 AM on October 26, 2019


One of the big reasons I’ve been behind this kind of idea is because food productions scales up really well, an industrial kitchen can make more , better salads faster then anyone else and as mentioned, if you’re not under the time gun, ikitchen work can be not grueling (while having the same problems as any assembly line work but hey if we’re designing this project can work on that)

Nationalize and Cooperatize Sweetgreen!
posted by The Whelk at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, food service suuuuucks and resteraunts barely break even. The entire food service industry runs on misery and near slavery and chronic abuse up and down the production line. Providing a socialized alternative in form of a universal basic food service would force them to up their ante, as well as comprehensive service worker protections, wage increases, and widespread industry co-operatizaton (worker owned service business report much higher worker satisfaction, wages, etc)
posted by The Whelk at 11:22 AM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Heard great stories as a kid about the good old days at the Madison WI dinning/living cooperatives.

A quick search found these links:

https://isthmus.com/food-drink/green-lantern-eating-co-op/

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM62247


https://jakekehl.blogspot.com/

Very excited by the idea of (non profit?) eating coops integrated with local food production!
posted by flummox at 5:51 PM on October 26, 2019



There is so much necessary work in society which doesn't get done. There are lots of jobs in the sense of "could we pay people to make life better and easier". There's no shortage of jobs, just a surplus of greedy rich people who want to take a bigger and bigger share of profits.


If you're unemployed it;s not because there isn't any work
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]




Mitheral, what kind of work camp are you describing? I've only heard that term used for places where prisoners were forced to work by threat of death or beatings. Like, I would describe the Communists as having run a bunch of work camps, and googling "work camp food" mostly returns references to the Nazis, who had I guess the other famous work camps.

Personally, I'm not a fan of big centralized meal services, even though they would be convenient and affordable, because they would also be very likely to force everyone to eat the same food. Food is one of the few durable ways immigrants preserve their own cultures. I don't dress like my grandparents did, and I only poorly speak their language, but I do eat their food.

I see the convenience and affordability of centralized meal service as a mitigation of an unsustainable work culture. Given the significant downsides of such a step, and the many other downsides of the thing it enables, I'd rather have a work culture that gave me enough time and money to cook for my own family.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:24 AM on October 27, 2019


I don't see app-based food ordering going anywhere. Nor am I'm sure I'd want it to. I order online, wait 20 minutes at home before going over to the restaurant for my food that's ready for me, instead of ordering and then waiting for it there (kiosk or drive-thru). Ideally the savings a computer-based ordering system would give restaurants would then trickle-down as better treatment and pay for the workers.

But we all know that's a lie. The restaurant culture prevalent in the US has a lot to do with the (relative) affordability of it, and (the lack of) worker protections that allows it to exist. In Scandinavian countries, and I suspect others with similar levels of protections, eating out is far more expensive but at least the waiter isn't dying on the inside.

Ghost kitchens are an obvious response to the ascendancy of delivery food that app-based ordering has resulted in, and the naively hopeful side is that that a hardworking immigrant couple can make a living bringing their native food to a wider audience. The depressing reality is that it allows a mediocre restaurant to endlessly rebrand the same food from the same kitchen as a new restaurant until that name garners enough poor reviews and they rebrand again.
posted by fragmede at 10:54 AM on October 27, 2019


Construction projects and permanent facilities in remote locations put the workers up in camps where they fly you in and out (or sometimes you drive) and provide you housing and food while you are on site. Some of the camps, especially at permanent facilities are practically small towns; last place I worked they had a pool, gym, golf course, ball fields and they were right on a lake where you could swim/fish/etc. Other camps are just trailers along side the road where you might share a bathroom with the guy next to you and "facilities" are a crib board in the dining hall/rec hall.
posted by Mitheral at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I see the convenience and affordability of centralized meal service as a mitigation of an unsustainable work culture. Given the significant downsides of such a step, and the many other downsides of the thing it enables, I'd rather have a work culture that gave me enough time and money to cook for my own family.

But it seems like what you're envisioning is some kind of "no more private kitchens comrade" situation where no one can cook for their own family rather than a system of available communal food that people could make regular use of as desired. (Do restaurants kill food traditions, for that matter? Would no one want to eat anything but home cooking under socialism? In my year spent in a more-or-less still-socialist city in the nineties, it seemed like lots of people went to restaurants. ) Some people don't like cooking, some people are sick, some people are old and frail, some people have toddlers; some people just enjoy having someone else make dinner a couple of nights a week. Some people feel that once they've prepared a nutritious breakfast and dinner, it would be nice for lunch to come from somewhere else.

Orwell proposed collective kitchens specifically because he saw it as a feminist gesture that would share the burden of cooking across society rather than privatizing it in a way that fell most heavily on women.

There's no rule that says communal kitchens need to be cod-American diner food, or that they need to have their menus determined by Comrade No-Salt-No-Fat in the capital, either.

On a personal level, I think that the intense privatization of contemporary life is sort of bad. Not because every introvert should be yucking it up down at the communal cafeteria every night, but because there are fewer and fewer ways to spend time cheaply or for free in a lightly structured social situation with your neighbors/community members. If there's one thing I do miss about college life and the old anarchist center, for instance, it was the community aspect of dining, because it was a way to build low-stakes, low-intensity social ties over time. I didn't need to get into my deepest feelings in the cafeteria or at the community dinner, but it was easy to feel less lonely just by seeing the same people and exchanging light chat regularly over meals. I love to cook, but if I could sign up for, say, Tuesday and Thursday dinner down at the My Neighborhood dining hall and chat idly about life with my neighbors I totally would.
posted by Frowner at 10:57 AM on October 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


It's funny that I'm arguing with you on this point, because as far as I can tell we have many of the same complaints about the status quo. Plus, I eat in a cafeteria five meals a week, so it's hardly as if I'm a saint on the mountain leading by example.

I agree that cafeterias can be good for all those things. I'm just super skeptical that if the U.S. started doing government cafeterias in 2019, they would be good ones. Every kind of institutional dining I've ever experienced has been an exercise in conforming to foreign norms, not just in the menu but in how it is served at the table, how we are expected to eat it, how we may behave while we are eating it. I can do it once a day at lunch-time and maybe a few times more a month to see friends or whatever, but I have no reason to cheer any movement that seeks to normalize it further.

This is all assuming, of course, that these cafeterias don't get branded as the place where we slop the poor people, and funded, supplied, staffed, and operated accordingly. In which case relevant comparisons would probably be bus lines, housing projects, and prison cafeterias.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2019


Also, if we are taking the idea of radical democratic socialism, we need to poll and inquire the population being served by these kitchen shops to see what they would like in them - I;d love to see a system where there are three vectors 1- a green-market of farmer goods provided at free or mostly free or some kind of universal SNAP systems 2- These city-run automats or cafeterias or even bistros (Bistros are an industrial model of food service) or all three types and take-away 3- A delivery service that works like Post-mates or whatever but for this Universal Public Food - a friend of mine runs an Instapot -ready veggie meal service geared toward working mothers where you can set up 2-3-5 a week deliveries of these meal packages that are just pour it into the pot, set it and forget it. What if we also had that but also a heavily subsidized Instant Pot giveaway system.

Food is a human right. We can design a system that makes sure no one goes without dinner and support carbon-capturing local farmland. Like all universal programs, if you get everyone on board it;s much harder to degrade and cut out of existence.

On an unrelated notice, the National Gallery of Art cafeteria is one of the better cafeterias I;ve been to and I've been to some amazing European ones so, it is possible.
posted by The Whelk at 10:07 PM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of services that are run very well by governments, and they're not all outside of the US. If you have a clear mission, lower corruption, and proper, sustainable funding (something that non-profits often do not have), governments can provide services in an incredibly efficient and consistent manner. I do get the concern about "X would be run badly by the government" but it's not inevitable – not even close.
posted by adrianhon at 4:24 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


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