Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 321–336 | Cite as

Managing Portfolio Lives: Flexibility and Privilege Amongst Upscale Restaurant Workers in Los Angeles

  • Eli R. WilsonEmail author


The unstable, even precarious labor conditions of many frontline service jobs in the United States should render them undesirable to upwardly mobile young workers. Yet for many, these types of jobs complement, rather than infringe upon, their broader lifestyles. Drawing on six years of ethnographic research in upscale Los Angeles restaurants, I show how front-of-the-house service workers navigate portfolio lives—sustained though shifting arrangements of labor and leisure that blur the boundaries between the two. I describe how these workers, who are mostly young, white, and college educated, leverage both personal resources and workplace structures to weave their restaurant jobs into their larger webs of activities. I close by discussing how the concept of portfolio lives extends theories of boundaryless work careers to the urban service economy, though these dynamic assemblages remain subject to class and race inequalities.


Service work Work careers Labor markets Ethnography Inequality Restaurants Young workers 



In addition to several anonymous reviewers who reviewed this manuscript, I would like to thank Alexandre Frenette, Claudio Benzecry, Michael Siciliano, Ruben Hernandez-Leon, Kyle Nelson, and the UCLA Ethnography Working Group for helpful feedback on previous versions of this paper. I would like to acknowledge the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment for funding support on this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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