Food For Thought: The Relationship Between Restaurants and the Arts
Conservationists study biodiversity to understand the relationship between flora and fauna, specifically how different species interact and depend upon one another for survival. Likewise, economists study economic interdependence to determine how industries work together in symbiosis. These principles inform the relationship between restaurants and the arts, which share an industrial Venn Diagram that often overlaps. As the restaurant and arts and entertainment industries have suffered due to pandemic-related lockdowns, many workers have become displaced from their day jobs and their passion projects, illustrating just how important one profession is to the other.
For many, working in a restaurant is a rite of passage. Foodservice work is demanding and difficult but offers a low bar of admission for prospective employees. That ease-of-access makes the industry appealing to anyone seeking decent-paying work with potentially flexible hours. Let’s look at who works in the restaurants that serve us through the good and bad times.
Restaurants are a cornerstone of the U.S. workforce, employing around 15.6 million Americans each year. Of 330 million U.S. citizens, 157 million are part of the workforce, with the other (roughly) half being too young, retired, or unable to work. Restaurant employees account for 9.55% of that workforce — you have almost a 1-in-10 chance of knowing someone who works in a restaurant. That number increases when you consider people who have worked in restaurants, including many famous names. More on that later, though.
The statistical breakdown for sex, race, and ethnicity illustrates restaurants as the melting pots they are, with the demographics roughly reflecting the population density per group. The biggest demographic divide is age. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the median age at 29.4, making most restaurant employees millennials. That age group has slowly made way for retirees and seniors looking for a second career, illustrating the restaurant candidate pool’s diversity. Factoring in the annual turnover rate, these statistics paint a clear picture: the restaurant industry has touched many people through direct employment.
Becoming an artist, whether creating visual art, pursuing acting, comedy, music (and more), is a financially dubious position. They might not work conventional 9-to-5 shifts as they’re often independent contractors, selling their service to the highest bidder. Jobs in their chosen creative field are scarce, and competition can be fierce, meaning that many aspiring artists require a secondary (or in sometimes, primary) means of stable income.
Looking at working musicians, their median income is around $25K. Once able to rely on album sales, musicians have turned to tour to supplement their wages. If a musician earns approximately 40% of their $25K annual from live performances, then imagine the hardships they’ve felt in the wake of pandemic lockdowns. At their full potential salary, that’s only $15K, which is barely above the U.S. poverty line.
For artists without a college degree or those obtaining one, the answer is to find a job with a flexible schedule around which you can work your artistry. By finding the right work/life balance, artists can pursue their dreams and pay their bills, and restaurants offer that security.
Restaurants and the Arts
The support between restaurants and the arts is reciprocal on multiple levels. Many actors, musicians, and artists have performed in restaurants. Local artists are often employed to elevate the atmosphere of an up-and-coming-restaurant. Touring artists are always on the hunt for good, cheap food and will often plug restaurants that they love to help spread the word. Let’s explore some popular artists who owe their early success to working in a restaurant and how they gave back.
Actors Who Waited
We see actors taking on wait jobs so often in film that it’s become a trope in Hollywood portrayals. There’s truth to this stereotype, as many actors have spent time waiting tables or preparing meals before their big break, including Brad Pitt, Rachel McAdams, and Eva Longoria. Many actors have returned the favor by opening up restaurants of their own, completing the circle from struggling artist employee to successful artist employer.
Outside of some dangerous concerts and a few carefully staged events, touring isn’t currently possible for the foreseeable future. It’s unfortunate then that the hospitality industry is struggling as well, as restaurants employed many musicians. Some even learned the difficulties of foodservice work, which led to some famous separations. Due to the industry’s uncertain nature, which has shifted dramatically with moving to digital services, many musicians have turned to open up their own restaurants.
The fine arts offer a comparable challenge to aspiring creators looking to get their footing. Many visual artists have taken on the responsibility of restaurant ownership, transforming their space itself into art. The influence of art in the restaurant is perhaps more subtle than someone working the host station or waiting tables, with artists preparing menus, or showcasing their work on-premise. The interconnectivity of restaurants and the arts are often sublime because art is everywhere, from web design to branding.
The Last Course
The pandemic has caused a crisis that strains restaurants and the arts. Restaurants are a fundamental pillar of the economy and provide a valuable system for artists looking for hustle while they’re pursuing their dream. There are many great reasons for anyone to work in a restaurant, from the community built to the opportunity for cheap meals and flexible schedules. Foodservice work puts you directly connected with people —an invaluable skill for any artist— testing your patience and compassion by putting you under pressure. Fortunately, there are solutions to improve both restaurants and the arts alike, and with patience, we will make it through.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.