Much depends on dinner in this clear and compelling examination of the restaurant industry by freelance food writer Corey Mintz.

Much depends on dinner in this clear and compelling examination of the restaurant industry by freelance food writer Corey Mintz.

A former cook and restaurant critic, Mintz looks at recent shifts in the way we eat, many of these trends having been rocket-fired by the pandemic, while considering what could — and should — come next. “My quest is nothing less than figuring out how to eat restaurant food and not be an a**hole,” he writes.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Author Corey Mintz</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Author Corey Mintz

A former Torontonian now living in Winnipeg, Mintz is passionate about restaurants and “the unique intoxication of a room full of strangers eating, drinking, laughing, and flirting.” But he also believes the food business needs to change, and he demonstrates why and how in themed chapters that combine thoughtful analysis, extensive research and persuasive argument.

Many restaurants will not survive the “throat punch” of the COVID pandemic, and those that come out of this ordeal will be either “very expensive or very cheap,” suggests one of the book’s experts. Still, Mintz remains guardedly optimistic about the future of food, seeing in this massive reset not just an opportunity but an obligation to create “a new normal that is a better normal.”

Mintz starts with the pandemic-pertinent issue of third-party delivery systems, which help restaurants reach more consumers but often gouge businesses that are operating at razor-thin margins.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>The impact of third-party delivery services such as Skip The Dishes… TK</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

The impact of third-party delivery services such as Skip The Dishes… TK

He examines restaurant workplace culture, which can combine a weirdly militaristic hierarchy — the traditional “brigade de cuisine” system has roots in French army organization — with a piratical sense that kitchens operate outside established rules. Add in toxic bro attitudes and the deification of “difficult” rock-star chefs, and you get workplaces rife with abuse and addiction. “Hospitality beats out mining for the highest rate of addiction of any professional field,” Mintz points out.

Mintz also looks at issues of unpaid or underpaid restaurant labour, systematic wage theft and the problematic issue of tipping rather than paying a liveable wage, a practice that has historical links to the Reconstruction-era oppression of Black restaurant workers and railway porters.

He explores the new information ecosystem around eating, including consumers who hunger for the newest hyped-up “It Spot” and paid influencers who snap Instagram-ready pics of the latest food fad. (Charcoal ice cream! Donut burgers!)

<p>The Next Supper</p>

The Next Supper

Other chapters deal with the vitality of immigrant restaurants, the increasing ubiquity of franchises and the environmental devastation and worker exploitation seen in the food production system.

Mintz’s writing is sometimes marked by abrupt transitions and sudden tonal shifts, but that’s partly because he’s covering so much material. He may be dealing specifically with the restaurant biz, but that discussion inevitably brings in big social, political, economic and ethical ideas.

For example, the concentration of cool restaurants along a walkable strip doesn’t just happen, Mintz points out, but is a result of decades of urban planning policies that help create liveable cities.

Labour practices in the food industry are related to the spread of the gig economy, the increasing reliance on unpaid interns and a whole generation facing precarious employment, Mintz suggests.

And in talking of the foodie attention economy, Mintz also discusses the increasing consolidation of media, the decline of local coverage, the slashing of news budgets needed for in-depth investigative reporting, and the dangerous conflation of press and PR.

Looking at our future through the prism of food, Mintz outlines some dire problems but also suggests some practical solutions for consumers. Read The Next Supper and you will find yourself looking at your next delivery order in a whole new way.

One of Alison Gillmor’s first jobs was as a restaurant dishwasher.

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.