Hot Docs preview: ‘Dish’ delivers look at women’s role in restaurant biz

At this year's Hot Docs, Maya Gallus' Dish illustrates that when it comes to the restaurant business, it's still the women that do the heavy lifting.
April 29, 2010

The documentary Dish – Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service is here to remind everyone that it’s still a man’s world.

‘Absolutely,’ laughs director Maya Gallus, a former waitress, whose cheeky and engaging admonition goes out of its way — all the way to Tokyo — to prove its thesis that, when it comes to the restaurant business, it’s still the women who do all the heavy lifting, while the managers are men.

Call it a blue-collar version of the pink-collar syndrome. The film debuts Friday at Hot Docs in Toronto.

‘It’s a feminist film but it’s not didactic,’ says producer Justine Pimlott, who is also a partner with Gallus in Red Queen Productions. ‘We’re not trying to hit you over the head with a message. But we’re saying ‘Look at this industry. We’re in 2010 and the glass ceiling is still firmly in place.’ There’s maybe a little bit of crack but not much.’

Dish talks to waitresses at Ontario truck stops, Montreal ‘sexy stops’ like Houstiers, and Paris where men rule the world of haute cuisine. But it’s the fetishistic ‘maid cafes’ in Japan that steal the show and drive home the doc’s point about the master/servant relationship.

Tokyo ‘maids’ must be 19 years old and call customers ‘master’ before, during and after the tea service.

Waitresses around the globe told them that customers project their needs onto servers, and that the phenomena is just taken to its extreme in Japan. Whether a waitress is regarded as a ‘surrogate mother or surrogate wife or surrogate girlfriend, [customers] are coming to the café to have human needs filled,’ says Pimlott.

Dish is reminiscent of ’80s feminist docs such as Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography. Gallus says her earlier feature Erotica was inspired by Not a Love Story, but that Dish sprang in part from journalist Barbara Ehrenreich’s book on blue-collar living Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

Films Transit is handling world sales on Dish, except Canada.

Hot Docs starts today and runs until May 9, 2010.

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