Qualitative methods

The method of observation has been considered a very effective method of gaining qualitative information about a given subject. This project is based on the assumption that the observation of people’s interactions leads to an understanding of their perceived relationships to each other. It also assumes that much of this perception is based on the socio-economic class to which they belong. This type of observation was carried out at the restaurant La Serenata De Garibaldi, which is located at 1416 Fourth St. on Santa Monica Boulevard.

This establishment serves lunch and dinner at prices that would attract middle-classed customers. The atmosphere is ambient, and is one that superimposes a fine-dining feel upon a more casual occasion. It therefore caters to a higher classed customer than is usually attracted by Mexican restaurants and the distinction between classes becomes more apparent. Methods The observation method of data collection was used in carrying out this research, which was performed over a period of two days. On the first visit, the research was carried out during lunch time, while on the second (three days later) it was carried out during dinner.

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The researcher assumed the role of customer at the La Serenata De Garibaldi restaurant and garnered a seat in the corner in order to gain a panoramic view of the main dining room. The observation focused on interactions between the other customers and servers as well as those interactions that involved the researcher. Observations were made regarding the dress, behavior, race, and conversation topics of the servers and the clients. Notes were made inside the margins of a textbook from which the research pretended to be studying.

After observation, the notes were compiled as field notes and analyzed using a combination of content analysis and threading techniques (Grbich, 2007). The content analysis included the recording and analysis of particulars such as who were involved and inferences as to why actions were performed. Threading was used for correlating notes concerning race, diction, dress and conversation topics as were identified from specific discussions carried out at individual tables. Findings More than one class distinction has been observed at this site.

The parking lot, which is the first introduction many have to the restaurant, was filled with cars that were expensive and/or exotic. Once inside the restaurant, it was possible to view the distinction mainly between the servers and the patrons (customers). While some servers were undoubtedly college students who might be deemed privileged, the background of these servers largely appeared to be Mexican. This may stem from the fact that the owners do take care to preserve a certain level of authenticity, not just in the taste of the food, but also in the (Hispanic) appearance of the hosts and servers who cater to the customers.

On the other hand, the clientele was largely composed of Caucasian races and, to a lesser extent, African Americans. Mexicans did come in as well, but this appeared to occur mainly at lunch time. The mode of dress worn by these groups distinguished the upper and lower middle classes both from each other as well as from the servers. The lower classes showed a more casual mode of dress, while the higher-level classes tended to be more business casual. The conversations of the clients were mainly concerned with family, entertainment, music and art.

It was noted, however, that the types of music referred to by the higher classes reflected a more refined taste. This class was also a bit more knowledgeable about art and appeared from their speech (diction) to be well educated. The interaction between the two groups accentuated the idea of the subservience of one class to another, as the largely Mexican server population was (literally) at the “beck and call” of the (largely) middle-classed white population.

However, observation of specific cases of server-customer interaction gave a less dismal picture of the class situation. While the servers were necessarily polite, it was often the case that the clients were polite to them as well. This was true even in cases where Mexican servers dealt with white clients. However, the class (as opposed to race) distinction became more apparent when one viewed the rarer cases in which some clients took advantage of their role as patrons to the restaurant and behaved harshly toward the servers.

This accentuated the fact that the servers were literally dependent upon the client for earning a living, and this highlighted the lower class-level of the server in relation to the customer. Yet the distinction between the classes of the servers and the clients was sometimes not very great. Mexican families often came in at lunch time, and at these times the servers and clients tended to have more in common regarding socio-economic background. At other times, the non-Mexican patrons appeared not to be very rich, but still demonstrated fine and well-bred behavior.

Such patrons were often also members of lower middle-classed families who were taking advantage of the large portion sizes by pooling the resources of a group. At those times, one noticed that customers were sometimes close friends of the servers—placing them in the same class. Conclusions Because of La Serenata De Garibaldi’s reputation as being one of the best Mexican restaurants, it attracts people of both upper and lower middle classes who are in search of good Mexican food.

The interactions between these classes have demonstrated not only that the servers are likely to be of a lower socio-economic group, but also that this group tends to be of Mexican (or Hispanic) ethnicity. The largely Caucasian clientele demonstrates the superiority of class through their dress, cultured conversation topics, and their expressive diction. However, some Hispanic servers bridge the gap somewhat because of their current status as college students. The fact that Mexican families often come in during lunch time also tends to bridge the socio-economic gap.