Serving at a bar or restaurant is a challenging, but it’s generally an awesome part-time (or full-time) job. You make wages plus tips, you tend to score a lot of free food, and you usually meet a great group of friends while you’re at it. However, there is one common down side to serving, and it is one that anyone who has ever worked in customer service can relate to: dealing with unfriendly, or even unruly customers. What I want to draw attention to is the way that female servers are specifically and often mistreated by these types of customers, in an all too personal and uncomfortable way.
Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the time you are bound to serve lovely people who absolutely make your day! The sad thing is that myself and every other female server I’ve ever known has experienced some sort of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior from customers at work. In fact, I’d bet that every woman working in this industry today has or will eventually encounter this issue at some point. That said, I’m certainly not implying that this is a non-issue for men, but I can only speak to the perspective I have as a woman.
The truth about being a female server is that this sort of harassment is everywhere within this industry. It’s in the gross pick-up lines from groups of drunk men who are twice your age. It’s in the stories I’ve heard about men who refuse to sit in another server’s section because they want to watch that “hot waitress” while they work. It’s in the skimpy uniforms female servers are often forced to work in – such as low-cut shirts or mini-skirts. Why should a woman have to worry about people’s wandering eyes when they bend over to clean a booth, while their male counterparts are allowed to wear pants? It’s the fact that certain customers somehow feel justified in tugging on that waitress’ skirt on the dance floor while she walks by with a tray of drinks. It’s apparent every time a woman has to dread delivering an order to a table because she doesn’t want to continue to fake a smile while being hit on by a stranger – and the list goes on and on! So, why is no one talking about this?
Maybe it’s because being a server is about making the customer’s experience as fantastic as possible so that they will return over and over again. Servers are trained to be friendly, polite, accommodating and to say “yes” as often as possible, without griping about it – that’s the game, and it’s a fair one! But what happens when you’re serving someone who takes advantage of that attitude by making inappropriate advances? How do you save face while also standing up for yourself? More often than not, it doesn’t feel possible to do both at the same time. That server simply endures the disrespect and adds that person to her mental list of patrons who fill her stomach with knots when they walk through the door.
Where can we start to change that? I think it is important that we ask ourselves as women why it somehow feels beyond our rights to respond honestly in these situations. Is this another way in which generations of the oppression and abuse women have tolerated is affecting our subconscious instincts? Probably. Is the pressure to comply with workplace conduct a factor here? Definitely – but regardless, it is 2018 and it is time to take action and make tangible change in this sector. Let’s train waitresses to feel empowered to take a stand in these situations. Let’s start developing high-level solutions to be proactive about these situations. Let’s educate servers about this issue and how they can respond to it early on in their career, so that they don’t instinctively question whether their desire to take action is warranted or not. This would have a lasting impact on the personal and professional development of young women.
In the meantime though, please make a point of always treating your servers kindly and respectfully. Be human first.