Working as a bartender, waiter, manager, chef, or any other position in the service industry is a difficult job. The hours are abnormal, there are rarely chances to sit down, customers are often drunk or demanding, and the pay is often unreliable, if not minuscule.
But a recent study found that for women, working these jobs is even worse.
Full-time female servers make up 71% of the nation's service industry, but earn only 68% of what male servers earn. Nearly 37% of all sexual harassment charges filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are from the restaurant industry, and only 19% of America's chefs are women.
BuzzFeed News reached out to women working in the service industry and collected nine stories illustrating these problems, plus many more.
One restaurant I worked at had a special qualification for hiring that I didn't notice at first: You had to be a "7 or above." I was prepping the bar when a cute college girl came in and dropped off an application. They didn't even check her work experience or references. All that was asked was, "What was she?" The head bartender said, "An 8. I'll call her tomorrow." She turned out to be a terrible waitress. Meanwhile, my friend with years of experience in customer service was "only a 5," so she didn't get the job.
The summer before my second year of college, I was a waitress at a popular sports bar in my neighborhood. The tips were phenomenal, but there was also a pretty obvious downside to being an 18-year-old girl in a tight V-neck and jean shorts (the uniform), surrounded by drunk men watching sports. There were constant comments, ass grabbing, and lip licking, but there are a couple particular instances that stick in my mind.
A lot of men made a game out of trying to guess my ethnicity. One in particular got really mad when I said I was a white, Jewish girl, and refused to pay his bill until I "admitted" that I was hispanic. Another customer followed me into an ATM cubicle down the block at 4 a.m. and cornered me until I managed to slip past him.
I worked as a hostess for a while at a very popular brunch spot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When I began the other hostesses warned me what an asshole my boss was, and man, were they right. He would constantly stand right by us and comment on women that were in the restaurant, at the bar, or being seated. He would lean in close to my ear and grumble, "Oof, just looking at her makes me hard," or, "I could eat her all day." Occasionally he would just growl. I always rolled my eyes and thought he might as well be saying, "Me. Man. Want wo-man."
When I worked as a bartender at a Columbia University dive, each night customers would constantly and repeatedly call me sexy, ask me for my number or if I would go home with them. They would shout at me, touch me, even reach over the bar, grab me and try to kiss me. If I didn't respond the way they wanted, I would often receive aggression, anger, and the occasional threat. There's nowhere to go when you're trapped behind a bar. Each time I had to choose between smiling through my discomfort or risk losing a tip. That adds up when your hourly rate is $0.
My boss insisted that we report these incidents and that he was there to protect his employees. Yet this same man would call me to inform me he was looking at me through the security camera above and that I "looked good tonight." On the last shift I worked he said, "You look great… you've really developed into a woman," and stared at my breasts.
I am the only female manager in my restaurant chain and it's a predominantly male crowd. Customers often treat me like I'm on the menu. I'll go up to a table and ask for their dessert order and they'll be like, "Sexy brunette please. Is that on the menu?" There's an assumption that I'm there as a walking accessory to grab and look at, not there managing the restaurant.
One time I was slicing a cake at a table and a guy took a picture of my ass and showed it to me as he was walking out the door. Another time my arms were filled with dishes and a guy took the opportunity to grab my face and kiss me because I couldn't pull away. There are certain customers that come in looking for me in particular, and my coworkers say, "Hey, why don't you go downstairs and do some office work for a little," so the customers can't find me.
It's annoying and it bothers me sometimes, but I never complain or talk back to them. At the end of the day, when you're working in hospitality, you can't be inhospitable yelling at your customers or calling them out. You just have to laugh it all off, because that's your job.
I genuinely loved working in bars and restaurants in the U.K., but I noticed that I was constantly kept in waitress roles and never given a chance to learn anything interesting like making cocktails, etc. The idea was that you should always keep the young ladies out front, waiting tables and bringing in tips. Most of the places I worked were pretty evenly balanced between male and female customers, so the rationale didn't even stack up. I often wondered if women pursuing careers in that sector struggled with that barrier.
I worked as a shot girl in a club while at university in England. My "contract" specified that I had to wear heels or boots and was not allowed to cover my legs.
I would work alone as they employed only one girl per club. Walking around in a dark room full of drunk and/or drugged people is actually pretty terrifying. One girl grabbed me saying "you're fit" and literally ran her fingers up between my legs, which was horrifying. In response, the bouncers laughed and just said, "Nice." On another occasion a guy rubbed his face in my breasts as he stood up to pay for a shot, then got very mouthy when I told him to fuck off. The bouncers didn't chuck him out and I spent the rest of the evening being jeered at and called a slut by him and his friends.
At the end of the day, that is just the job of a waitress, but the way people behaved towards me was animalistic and has had a very lasting effect on me.
I used to work at a popular burger joint and experienced raw to medium-rare sexual harassment pretty often. Some examples: One night, a couple of male customers were leaving after having paid their bill. One looked back at me and said, "I wish I could give YOU the tip." Naturally, the "tip" he was referring to was not money. Another time, I had one very drunk customer hitting on me. I politely told him I had a boyfriend and he asked me to point out to him "the vulnerable girls at the bar" that he could hit on instead.
At the sports bar I worked at, I actually received more sexual harassment from the managerial staff than the customers. I remember wearing a skirt to work once and my manager told me he was going to glue mirrors on the tops of his shoes. I never wore a skirt there again.
I work in a live music bar as a cocktail waitress. The bar is entirely staffed by women, but managed by men. The owner sometimes comes in and engages me in conversation. He often opens with "I'm not a misogynist, but..." The conversation is then sprinkled with gems like, "Women rely on men, physically and emotionally," and "Men have a longer shelf-life." He sometimes concludes by explaining why intelligent women are essentially fucked because they won't be able to find a man. My boss makes it clear that he believes women are the weaker sex, that they need men. But anything I say or do in reply will put my job in jeopardy.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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