The hierarchy of Chinese restaurant workers

This recruitment poster appeared the other day outside a (fairly large) noodle shop near my office. The thing I like about these ads is how they give you a clear view into the amazingly hierarchical world of low-end service jobs. Here we have no fewer than 11 distinct jobs advertised, along with pay grades (which make a pretty useful labor market datapoint as well). And this is for a noodle shop serving dishes that cost about $2.

restaurant_wages

In the halcyon days of my youth, I recall American restaurants posting a simple “Help Wanted” sign, possibly with the addendum “Inquire Within.” And when I worked in a pizza parlor, we had basically two job types: people who worked the front, and people who worked the back.

Chinese restaurants, for reasons I have yet to divine, have a much more elaborate division of labor. For instance, most restaurants have not only fuwuyuan (“servers”), who are usually female and take your order and bring you the bill, but also duancaiyuan (“dish carriers”), who are usually male and who carry the dishes from the kitchen to your table. In my experience this fine distinction does not actually improve service quality: since the duancaiyuan are not allowed to actually talk to you, you can’t ask them for more tea, or to bring the rice now, or whatever. Which means you still have to flag down a fuwuyuan even though someone has already come to your table. The noodle shop in question is not structured as a sit-down restaurant, so it doesn’t have this particular division. But it is seeking a lot of different skill sets for the kitchen. And there is an ironclad distinction between someone who works the cash register, and someone who brings the food (the latter is paid RMB400 a month less).

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