Panopticon Cash Register

I took this picture this past Wednesday at a restaurant in Mexico and found it relevant to the discussions we have had in class and here on our course website. This picture depicts a side of the restaurant with a random mirror displaying families enjoying their tasty meals through its reflection. At first I did not find it weird at all, maybe it’s a girl thing not to question mirrors being everywhere and anywhere, but soon I realized that this area was where the cash register and the owner’s office was located. This mirror-like section of the restaurant reminded me of the panopticon concept, created by the English social theorist Jeremy Bentham, originally created to allow an observer to observe inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. In this case, the managers or the cashiers are the observers of the customers who are fully aware that behind those mirrors they are being watched. This leads to self surveillance because customers know that there is a possibility that they are being watched at all times even if this is not the case. The owner’s idea of constructing the cash register in such a way may be for security reasons but it also affects the way in which customers interact in the establishment. I have to admit that I felt a bit uncomfortable taking this picture because I felt like all eyes were on me behind the mirror.
Having the cash register semi hidden from the public eye has a completely different effect than a having it out in the open like restaurants here normally do. Or simply not having access to where the cash register is located and having the waiter come and go from the cash register to your table is something normal that goes dismissed in restaurants. But this cash register had a panopticon vision to all sections of the restaurant making its presence really noticeable. It is interesting how society has grown accustomed to this type of surveillance to the point where people unconsciously self police themselves as without really questioning or minding being observed through a reflective structure. I personally would have felt very uncomfortable had my table been directly across from the cash register and would have not enjoyed my meal as much as I did from where I was sitting. But other people, possible clients who visit the restaurant regularly, ate and conversed just fine. Other restaurants have cameras but this structure is not small enough to go unnoticed; Which makes me question whether having a larger, more noticeable, structure has more of an impact on customers or if it becomes just as normalized as having a camera.

Research Questions:
1) What are the implications of having a restaurant with this type of security?
2) Does this panopticon structure have a positive/negative effect on consumer’s performances?
3) Is distance, from the table to the cash register, an important factor when analyzing how people act in the restaurant?

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2 thoughts on “Panopticon Cash Register

  1. To answer the third question, I think that the fact that we think that we are being watched controls our bodies. It creates docile and useful bodies. If we think we are being watching in a restaurant, or anywhere for that matter, we behave differently than we would if we didn’t think we were being watched. Foucault argues that we are constantly controlled and this example of the mirror/cash register is a great example. I think two-way mirrors in general are a great example. Some clothing stores have these types of mirrors to prevent shop-lifting. The question then becomes, when is our privacy being invaded for the good of our security and when is it simply just being violated?

  2. Wow, this is really interesting. Apparently the panopticon concept is bigger than we thought as it appears to occur across the world! Foucault states power is not property but a strategy to create docile bodies. The owner of this restaurant uses this particular form of panoptical surveillance as a strategy to keep the customers in check and questioning if they’re being watched. Therefore the panoptican has a positive effect on customers performance because they will act obediently.

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