Richard E. Ocejo

 

On his book Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy

Cover Interview of July 19, 2017

A close-up

If a reader were to casually pick up the book, I would hope they would flip to Chapter 7, which is called “Service Teaching.” This chapter focuses on the three service jobs I studied, the cocktail bartenders, upscale men’s barbers, and whole-animal butchers and butcher shop workers. It vividly shows the interactive service work these workers do, and the important role they play in both creating and teaching taste.

“Service teaching” refers to education through service. These workers all have a very democratic understanding of taste, meaning they think that everyone should have access to their high-quality offerings, and that everyone is capable of appreciating them. They also see teaching people about their own taste and the unique qualities that make what they do “good” as an integral part of their jobs. They look for opportunities to reach consumers.

The first part of service teaching is when workers figure out the “types” of consumers they encounter. They place consumers into one of three types, which they base on their initial interactions with them when they first walk into their business. Consumers are “experienced,” “curious,” or “lost.” The first group are people who either know what they want and/or are regulars, the second group show a desire to get lured into the taste world and learn more about their own taste, and the last group is some combination of being habit-bound, uninformed, misinformed, unable to express what they like, are perhaps intimidated by what these businesses and taste worlds are all about, and in the case of barbers, are insecure about their appearance. Figuring out the “type” of consumer they are dealing with guides these workers in how they serve them.

With any type of consumer, these workers are looking for ways to expand their tastes and enhance their existing knowledge. They look for opportunities, such as hints or clues that reveal what people like, to match them with a product or style that will suit their sensibilities. These usually come in the consumer’s order, but these businesses are also designed to get consumers curious, such as the array of rare bottles behind a cocktail bar and the unusual cuts of meat in a whole-animal butcher shop’s display case.

While it seems like these workers are providing their consumers with a wholly original product or service, in fact they rely on established choices that have worked for them before, such as a cocktail that people with certain tastes tend to enjoy. They essentially use scripts of their own making to interact with consumers. As such, they expect consumers to play the role of a “good consumer,” or someone who will listen to what they have to say.

Workers get frustrated when consumers don’t follow the script, such as by challenging their expertise, disagreeing with them, and not taking their advice. They are “lost” consumers, who, these workers feel, will not join their taste world.