China Star (Fast Food?) Restaurant advertising “buffet, all you can eat at 12:30 P.M.
Environment: Entering the restaurant, greeted by neat and clean appearing man with glasses who asks, “Just one?” I respond, “Yes, and I would like a booth, please.” I feel like “booths” are more conducive to the assignment, provide a sense of closeness of one. Greeter, host, guides me into one of three sections of the restaurant, this center section appears to the “lunch” hour section. I slide into the booth. On the wall above me is a large poster in glass of the Great Wall of China, I always liked this photograph, have seen it elsewhere in books. On the table are condiments, napkins – that’s it? Nothing advertising desert, wow! Too used to eating at Olive Garden where they’re pushing food, especially desert at you.
Response: I look around, take out my notebook, immediately begin to write the above observations/thoughts. A waitress approaches, very slim, dressed in black and white attire, Asian, hair must be long, it’s tied back, “Drink” she asks in heavily accented voice. Iced tea, no sugar, I reply. She waves towards the buffet area. I’m still writing what I observe, her facial expression; it suggests that she thinks I’m strange? “I’d like to order off the menu,” I respond. Her eyes widen (I’m still writing), “Yes,” she smiles and brings me a menu, then disappears. I scan the menu, look up, people are looking at me as they eat their meals. I have a sense that they’re suspicious of me, since they’re all buffet connoisseurs, I decide by their piled plates. Most of the individuals seated in the lunch area are obese, at least four individuals suffering morbid obesity. Looking around, there are at least six eating disorders, and one in the making as the mother is actually forcing a plump toddler to eat, even though the child is clearly not wanting to do that. Both the mom and the person presumably to be grandma are obese, the grandma morbidly so. Their plates are piled high, and there is a stack of what was presumably the first trip to the buffet. The child is fussing, not wanting the food that mom is forcing her to take, turning its head, and mom fails or refuses to read the child’s signals of having enough. I’m watching, and they look at me with an almost hostile look which suggests I mind my own business. it’s easy to be fascinated by the feeding frenzy going on around me. I have never done this before. I sense embarrassment, not for my observations because it is a public place; but for them, unable to resist the disorders from which they suffer and which is manifesting itself by a display of public gluttony.
All You Can Eat Buffet Observation Study
Choosing an “all you can eat” buffet as the environment for my observation study arises out of recent attention drawn to those types of eating places when two men, both morbidly obese, were allegedly treated badly by the restaurant’s owner and staff for eating too much (WWLTV.com, 2008, found online at: http://www.wwltv.com/local/stories/wwl010208tpbuffetfight__.1c12476.html, retrieved 29 January 2008). What, the question in this case arises, is the customer protocol or rules for eating in an “all you can eat” buffet? How would the staff or manager of such a place convey those rules; would they use verbal instructions, body language of approval or disapproval? In the case that had originally drawn the public’s attention to the subject, the two gentlemen, regular patrons of the restaurant, claimed a verbal exchange had occurred, and that the restaurant staff had been verbally insulting, abusive, in their remarks to the customers (WWLTV.com, 2008). The observation exercise assignment here provided the opportunity to conduct a brief study of “all you can eat” buffets, and to perhaps answer these questions by observing behaviors.
The Study of Observation in All You Can Eat Buffet Environment
The first thing that must be noted when conducting an observation study where one is writing continuously, making observations, writing notes; is that the observer quickly becomes the observed. In this “all you can eat” environment, an observer is the social deviant, because individuals whom, as observed on this occasion, suffer maladies manifesting in eating disorders, gather to accommodate the malady through overeating. By the responses of individuals, who expressed their disapproval with physical facial expressions of annoyance, perhaps even anger; observing the behavior of overeating is not acceptable in this social setting. Thus, in this setting, where individuals are perhaps hyper-sensitive about being observed as obese individuals overeating, the observer is demonstrating a socially deviant behavior.
In this setting, the restaurant staff persons, who actually are observers of a different sort, wait staff, refilling drinks, but taking orders off the menu is the exception, and not the rule; are largely ignored by the customers. The staff does not engage the patrons, responding only to visual signs of an empty glass. The staff also responds to customer behaviors in eating, delivering non-verbal messages of approval or disapproval of eating behavior. For instance, in those cases where the customer’s first trip to the buffet results in excessive eating patterns of overloading a plate, and multiple plates on the first trip to the buffet. In these instances, perhaps because the customer has already used two plates, the wait staff will very casually walk by the customer’s table and place a customer bill on the table, smile, ask if they would like another drink, then walk away. The wait staff, although delivering the non-verbal message by way of the bill, is courteous and ignores the customer’s overeating malady.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the customers fail to adhere to the subtle suggestion of the restaurant staff that the customer might have eaten enough, because most disregard the suggestive bill, and make another trip, in less than an hour, to the buffet where they, once again, pile a plate with food stuff. In these instances, the restaurant staff does not approach or offer reprimand. However, in observing the wait staff, their facial expressions would suggest a sense of amazement, rather than disgust, at the ability of some of the morbidly obese customers to overeat. The wait staff is very good at masking their disapproval, if any of them had a sense of disapproval.
Individual Table Focus
It was difficult not to focus on the table where there was a mother, grandmother, and a child eating. The grandmother, relatively young, estimated by this observer to be mid to late forties; her daughter (in-law), estimated by this observer to be early to mid twenties; and a female toddler, about two years old whose physique was quite robust. The child had a plate in front of her, with a varied selection of food stuff, and the appearance of the food indicated that the child had tasted several choices on the plate, leaving the vegetables untouched. The mother, apparently not satisfied with the child’s inattention to the remaining food, and who was herself eating, was forcing the child to eat more food, selected from the mother’s plate, and from food groups other than vegetable. The child resisted the mother’s efforts, and the mother physically held the child’s face and forced her eat. All the while, the grandmother was remarking, “She needs to eat more.”
The mother and grandmother chose to ignore the child’s protests in being forced to eat more, and continued to force the child to eat. The mother and daughter were transferring their own eating disorders to the child, and this was nothing short of child abuse going on in a public setting, but was overlooked because of the environment comprised of individuals who for the most part manifested a like-kind of malady that drove the mother and grandmother to force feed the child.
The mother and grandmother responded to being observed by facial expressions of disapproval, but these were short lived, and both women became more focused on their plates and the child, ignoring that they were being observed. This was an amazing defense mechanism, a false consciousness, which that allowed them to continue manifesting their disorder in a public setting. It was difficult not to experience a sense of empathy for the child, who would no doubt become a product of habitus, or a product of her environment. She is a young child whose own destiny has been sidetracked by her mother’s and grandmother’s overeating maladies.
Today, the term “McDonaldization” has been applied to the system and syndromes revolving around the fast food industry (Cohen, R. And Kennedy, P. 2000, Global Sociology, MacMillan, London, p. 378). However, the hypothesis that is presented here, as a result of this observation study, is that a whole new “all you can eat” system and syndrome exists, separate and apart from the McDonaldization identified and defined in prior studies. Further comparative study and observations involving both settings would prove to support, or, not support this hypothesis.
Henslin, J.M., (DATE), Essentials of Sociology a Down to Earth Approach by. Henslin 7th Edition, (PUBLISHER).
Cohen, R. And Kennedy, P. 2000, Global Sociology, MacMillan, London.
WWLTV.com, 2008, found online at: http://www.wwltv.com/local/stories/wwl010208tpbuffetfight__.1c12476.html, retrieved 29 January 2008.
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