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New Documentary Explores Restaurant Work In Local Scene

These days, people are largely disconnected from the origins of most of what they buy or use, from the drill rigs where oil is pumped to the factories where electronic devices are assembled. Such places are often also sites of human or environmental abuse. The same goes for food – including restaurant meals.

While diners anticipate eating out as an hour or two of seamless pleasure, restaurant workers, from chefs to waitstaff, sweat more in their jobs than most people do, and endure considerable stress. So learned filmmaker David Bernabo while making Eating & Working & Eating & Working, his new documentary about labor in the local restaurant industry.

The feature-length film draws on interviews with more than dozen restaurant owners, restaurant workers and other experts to explore the physical and mental demands of such labor, as well as issues like sexual harassment and racism in the industry.

It’s probably, in other words, the only restaurant documentary you’ll see this year that combines loving montages of food-prep with short introductory courses on both redlining and the economics of labor.

Interview subjects include the juicers at Reed & Co. and the folks at Thai Gourmet, Station restaurant and Driftwood Oven, as well as scholar Alice Julier, journalist Celine Roberts, and activist Liana Maneese.

“The film looks at the mental and physical demands that’s put upon the food work force, and I think a lot of that is kind of hidden from the restaurant-goer,” said Bernabo, who has made three previous films about the local food ecosystem.

Many documentary films and even reality-TV series have dug into the restaurant scene. Bernabo said his goal with Eating & Working was to “give the participants adequate time to fully get an idea out, to fully explain their experience and nuances around that experience.”

Waitstaff, especially, have many stories of abuse at the hands of diners, including yelling and inappropriate touching. Bernabo (who also contributes the film’s original soundtrack) said he hopes his documentary is more than simply informative.

“This is a film meant to actually change people’s actions when they go into restaurants,” he said. “Even since I started making this film, I’ve started tipping 25 percent instead of my normal 20 percent, just because there is so much work that goes into the food I’m getting.”

Free public screenings of Eating & Working are scheduled for this Sunday at 6 p.m. at Willow restaurant, in the North Hills, and on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Driftwood Oven, in Lawrenceville.

The film is also available at Vimeo on demand.

You can find the trailer here.