I was a server for a year when I was sixteen, and for a summer when I was nineteen, and let me tell you, I, as, your waitress was not hitting on you. I was the worst server on staff both times. I served wedding and large events in both experiences, and I want to personally apologize to the people who unknowingly booked our restaurant for a wedding and were cursed with me serving them. I broke glasses every time I worked—at least two every shift, and once I broke one in the middle of the dance floor—I spilled entire meals on people, and I would hide out in the bathroom to avoid my manager at least 25 minutes a shift. Needless to say, I absolutely hated serving. I was no good at it, and I had no intention of getting better because it was such a pain in my ass. I have friends who are great at serving and love to do it, they make crazy tips, and they love the fast-paced environment. I’d like to be like them, but my dream job is slower-paced and requires far less walking.
Why do you think your waitress is hitting on you?
It wasn’t the long hours, or all the sweeping made me hate this job, it was the men who made the mistake of mistaking my kindness as a service person as flirting, and thus used it as an excuse to sexually harass me. Whoa! You might be thinking that this took a really quick turn from light-hearted to very dark, and it did. But it did for me too when I would be polite to a customer, and I would be caught off guard by a vulgar comment or someone’s hands on my body. When working a job that heavily relies on tips to be worth the effort, servers who know their stuff with have a great rapport with their tables, will hopefully encourage a “homey” environment, and will most likely put up with a lot of bullshit. The kindness that servers—mostly female servers—must perpetuate to keep the lights on occasionally also puts them in danger. Many people will misinterpret a woman’s politeness as flirtation or even as a sexual advance when, in reality, it is her job to be nice to her customers.
Why is your waitress not hitting on you?
According to “Living for Tips”, an article published by the University of California, “70 percent of tipped workers are women” and “In a survey of 900 restaurant workers across the country, 90 percent of them reported experiencing sexual harassment, […]But, they were experiencing it at twice the rate in states with lower wages for tipped workers,”. The concept is that women who have to work harder for tips to make up for low wages are more likely to be sexually harassed as their kindness is used as an excuse to be inappropriate or predatory towards them. This is obviously a massive issue. I know I’ve been at a table of men as a patron and I’ve witnessed comments like “That waitress is totally into me!” and “you know she wants me!”. I’ve also been the waitress on the other end, hoping for a table who keeps making comments to please just pay their bill and leave.
Personally, the few times that customers touched my back, my arms, and my waist, or called me “baby,” or “doll,” it was genuinely terrifying. I was harassed as a waitress most often when I was a minor and did not know how far some men would go to terrorize me. When you’re in the moment of being sexually harassed at your workplace, you don’t know when it’s going to stop. Stories of women being followed to their car, assaulted in the parking lot, dealing with the same man coming into the restaurant daily to see them, to the men perpetrating the harassment, they think they’re “harmless”, but to the waitress on the other end, we don’t know if they’re just going to pay their bill after the “flirting” or if they could turn violent later on.
Your Waitress is not hitting on you!
This brings us to the question that so many women who have been victimized are asked: “Why didn’t you just speak up? Why didn’t you say no?” This question has multiple in-depth answers, but the main idea is that women who say no often experience consequences. This is a prevalent theme among women who’ve been victimized by sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. There are literally thousands of cases of femicide annually because of women exercising their right to say “no”, “stop”, and “I don’t like that”.
Beyond just customer-patron relationships, women are being murdered and assaulted by their husbands, bosses, as well as complete strangers for asking for respect and bodily autonomy. So yes, hypothetically a waitress could tell a patron to stop sexually harassing her. Still, when she does this, she risks at the very least losing her tips, and to some people in the service industry tips are the difference between eating dinner, buying groceries, or gas for their car and going without. On larger scales, waitresses risk being fired for disrespecting customers, sexually or physically assaulted, or even killed. There isn’t a lot of room for servers of any gender to express discomfort or ask for space without risking harm.
For the rampant sexual misconduct towards servers to stop, we have to demand more as a society and a culture. Firstly, servers should not be relying on tips to pay their bills. Servers should be making a living wage with tips as a bonus, thus minimizing the need to be completely subservient to the patron regardless of what they say and do. Secondly, we need to have stronger sexual harassment policies in our restaurants and businesses—sexual harassment should be zero tolerance from both employees and customers. Managers of businesses should be further trained regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. There should be high expectations for all companies to be well informed and ready to deal with sexual harassment. Lastly, we need to teach our men better. We need to project throughout our communities that sexual harassment is absolutely unacceptable. This means better sexual education on consent and harassment, conversations with the men and boys in our lives, and harsher punishment for people who offend sexually.
Listen, serving is a tough job. Serving entails many hours on your feet, sweaty and hot kitchens, a lot of cleaning, and occasionally a good cry in a walk-in-freezer. Servers have it hard enough without people making them feel unsafe at their place of work. Servers deserve more money and less harassment—well, actually we all do. As we reach the end of my article, I’d like to remind everyone out there that your waitress is not hitting on you, she’s just trying to make it through the day.