Dominos, Orwell and Bloody Pizza Sauce

April 16, 2009 ☼ AdvertisingFood

In just a few days we’ve seen a couple of dimwitted scumbags erode the brand’s credibility faster than you can say Get the door, it’s Dominos.”

Unfortunately, George Orwell’s rule of thumb (“roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it”) never applied to pizza franchises.

As the backlash against the two coworkers guileless enough to upload videos of their back-room chicanery continues (now, to the point of Dominos apologizing and the duo facing felony charges) I’m reminded of his classic Down and Out in Paris and London and one of its themes, that the working class and poor have a special code amongst themselves binding them to reverence and respect when they’re in a service role for those at or equal to their station.

This is probably best shown in Orwell’s time as a dishwasher at a Paris hotel. Here’s an excerpt; you can read the entire book online.

The dirt in the Hotel X, as soon as one penetrated into the service quarters, was revolting. Our cafeterie had year-old filth in all the dark corners, and the bread-bin was infested with cockroaches. Once I suggested killing these beasts to Mario. Why kill the poor animals?’ he said reproachfully. The others laughed when I wanted to wash my hands before touching the butter. Yet we were clean where we recognized cleanliness as part of the BOULOT. We scrubbed the tables and polished the brasswork regularly, because we had orders to do that; but we had no orders to be genuinely clean, and in any case we had no time for it. We were simply carrying out our duties; and as our first duty was punctuality, we saved time by being dirty.

In the kitchen the dirt was worse. It is not a figure of speech, it is a mere statement of fact to say that a French cook will spit in the soup– that is, if he is not going to drink it himself. He is an artist, but his art is not cleanliness. To a certain extent he is even dirty because he is an artist, for food, to look smart, needs dirty treatment. When a steak, for instance, is brought up for the head cook’s inspection, he does not handle it with a fork. He picks it up in his fingers and slaps it down, runs his thumb round the dish and licks it to taste the gravy, runs it round and licks again, then steps back and contemplates the piece of meat like an artist judging a picture, then presses it lovingly into place with his fat, pink fingers, every one of which he has licked a hundred times that morning. When he is satisfied, he takes a cloth and wipes his fingerprints from the dish, and hands it to the waiter. And the waiter, of course, dips HIS fingers into the gravy–his nasty, greasy fingers which he is for ever running through his brilliantined hair. Whenever one pays more than, say, ten francs for a dish of meat in Paris, one may be certain that it has been fingered in this manner. In very cheap restaurants it is different; there, the same trouble is not taken over the food, and it is just forked out of the pan and flung on to a plate, without handling. Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it.

Dirtiness is inherent in hotels and restaurants, because sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and smartness. The hotel employee is too busy getting food ready to remember that it is meant to be eaten. A meal is simply UNE COMMANDE to him, just as a man dying of cancer is simply a case’ to the doctor. A customer orders, for example, a piece of toast. Somebody, pressed with work in a cellar deep underground, has to prepare it. How can he stop and say to himself, This toast is to be eaten–I must make it eatable’? All he knows is that it must look right and must be ready in three minutes. Some large drops of sweat fall from his forehead on to the toast. Why should he worry? Presently the toast falls among the filthy sawdust on the floor. Why trouble to make a new piece? It is much quicker to wipe the sawdust off. On the way upstairs the toast falls again, butter side down. Another wipe is all it needs. And so with everything. The only food at the Hotel X which was ever prepared cleanly was the staff’s, and the PATRON’S. The maxim, repeated by everyone, was: Look out for the PATRON, and as for the clients, S’EN F–PAS MAL!’ Everywhere in the service quarters dirt festered–a secret vein of dirt, running through the great garish hotel like the intestines through a man’s body.

Apart from the dirt, the PATRON swindled the customers wholeheartedly. For the most part the materials of the food were very bad, though the cooks knew how to serve it up in style. The meat was at best ordinary, and as to the vegetables, no good housekeeper would have looked at them in the market. The cream, by a standing order, was diluted with milk. The tea and coffee were of inferior sorts, and the jam was synthetic stuff out of vast, unlabelled tins. All the cheaper wines, according to Boris, were corked VIN ORDINAIRE. There was a rule that employees must pay for anything they spoiled, and in consequence damaged things were seldom thrown away. Once the waiter on the third floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service lift, where it fell into a litter of broken bread, torn paper and so forth at the bottom. We simply wiped it with a cloth and sent it up again. Upstairs there were dirty tales of once-used sheets not being washed, but simply damped, ironed and put back on the beds. The PATRON was as mean to us as to the customers. Throughout the vast hotel there was not, for instance, such a thing as a brush and pan; one had to manage with a broom and a piece of cardboard. And the staff lavatory was worthy of Central Asia, and there was no place to wash one’s hands, except the sinks used for washing crockery.

Of course things have improved, and now we’ve got regular health department inspections with all sorts of sanitary rules.

But dirty and contaminated are two entirely different concepts. There’s a massive difference between a kitchen being filthy like Chef Mario’s and Tyler Durden pissing in the soup (but guess which one is worse for you, save the shock and horror of the latter).

There’s something special about pizza franchises that causes the class code, in whatever form it exists now, to be non-existent, and brings the Tyler Durdens of the world together. Maybe it’s the terrible hours, or absurd pay. I think it’s mostly the lack of supervision and latitude in what gets prepared or how to prepare it. I worked in restaurants quite a bit growing up, but all the horrible things seemed to happen at pizza places.

Two disreputable pals of mine actually managed pizza shops, and each of them was a bit on the sociopath side, in his own way. Messing with the food never seemed to be a priority, but the general mayhem that went on just seemed to spill over. For instance, one had a contest with coworkers to see who could sling a fully cooked pizza onto the 35+ foot sign outside the restaurant, like a floppy vertical discus. The one time I observed, this happened in broad daylight, and there were no victors. Later I was informed they’d managed to get one of the pizzas to stick, but then had to toss up balls of frozen dough so it would fall off the sign before a customer saw it and complained. They didn’t serve the pizzas, just tossed them around.

The most shocking instance comes from the other dude, who once sliced his finger open while cutting something and bled himself into a bin of sauce for five minutes before bandaging his digit. He explained it to me mater-of-factly the next day and I remember almost fainting.

(Neither of these were at Dominos franchises, by the way.)

So what’s the executive summary, for those of you high above, reading in the jet? I have no idea; this is a pretty scattered entry. I guess:

An aside, on uploading video of yourself committing crimes to the internet: Over time, I’d imagine, video evidence of a violation of every single piece of criminal code will be uploaded to YouTube by slack-jawed jabronis. No one will ever wise up. I look forward to the pieces of criminality that perhaps don’t translate well to video, such as money laundering and mail fraud.