Here’s a scenario. You’re out for dinner with your friends and an attractive host seats you in a comfy booth. The overly dim lighting casts a glow on your table as an equally attractive woman greets your table with an overly zealous greeting. You can’t help but feel important. Now put yourself into that girl’s high heels. A study in 2014 found that 80 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment while working in the service industry. Sexual harassment towards women working in the restaurant industry is nothing new. But do you know to what extent it happens? Many university students work as servers, bartenders or bottle service girls to help pay their way through school. Several female Ryerson University students shared some of their personal experiences in the service industry in downtown Toronto.
Case #1: Niki
Meet Niki Paiva. She is 22 years old and is a fourth-year criminology student. Throughout her degree, she has played on the Ryerson Rams soccer team while also working in a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Pavia said that at her current job, a lot of the clients are in suits and are individuals looking for a “high-end dining experience.” She said that she does use her sexuality to her advantage because she knows that she will make more money that way. However, she has had experiences where guests will cross a line. “I have had guys touch my arm and even stroke my hair, or they will leave their numbers and ask for mine after they tip me on their bill. Guys will expect something in return for a good tip, and they get sour if I don’t put out,” said Pavia. Pavia is a bartender so she said that it is hard to avoid inappropriate situations because when she’s behind the bar, managers tell the girls that they have to be chatty with everyone who sits down. “I have had managers ask me what’s wrong if I am not smiling, but they never say that to the guys that work with me,” said Pavia. One time Pavia said she had a manager pull her aside because she wore her hair to work in a ponytail and they said that it was too messy and she has to always wear her hair down. Pavia said that at her restaurant, girls will come in and apply and she can tell almost immediately whether or not managers will even look at their resumé. “Girls will come in and apply, and we know they won’t hire them because they aren’t ‘good looking enough.’ There isn’t one girl at my work that would be considered overweight.” Pavia said that she doesn’t feel like the management has always cared for her well-being, especially when it comes to uncomfortable situations. “Everyone says being sexualized is part of the job. It doesn’t have to be part of the job.”
Meet Danielle Guild. She is 22 year old and is a third-year retail management student. Guild worked at a pool bar as one of her first jobs in Toronto. The pool bar has the girls walk around in bikinis and do bottle service for guests who have purchased booths. “I had guys hit on me and they feel free to kiss and touch you,” said Guild. At clubs like these, the girls are expected to bring in clients to purchase their booths. Guild said she never personally slept with the men, but she knows of girls who did.
Guild also said that at another club downtown the girls were encouraged by management to do drugs and sleep with the customers. “I had a guy that kept grabbing my ass, and I told my manager, and he did nothing about it. The owners at that club always hit on me and tried to take me home,” said Guild. Guild said she also had club owners take home a portion of the tip pool, which is illegal. Servers are expected to tip out on sales percentages not based off of how large a tip is. Guild said she once got a $1,000 tip from a table and management forced her to give $500 of that tip directly to the club, even though she had earned that money fairly. “I had a hard time speaking up about that, but later I was thinking about how unfair that was. I also had a drunk guest argue with me about his bill, and he degraded me by calling me stupid and sometimes guys would even try and pull off the strings of my bikini.”
Meet Ariel Hughes. She is 21 years old and is a second-year creative industries student. Since she was 15 years old, she has worked in a restaurant and, for her, it’s more than a job; it is her ticket through university. Hughes’s first job in Toronto was at Jack Astor’s, and she said it was an entirely different experience for her. “A couple of girls would get called out for not ‘looking their personal best.’ A male manager one time pointed at one of my female co-worker’s faces and said, ‘you have hit a new standard and I’m going to hold you up to it,’” said Hughes. The girls at Jack Astor’s had to buy the company uniform once they were hired. The uniform includes a tight, short lululemon skort, a skin-tight T-shirt that has a sassy slogan on the back and over-the-knee socks. Hughes said that if it was an overly cold day they were allowed to wear pants but they had to be tight lululemon leggings and a tight black zip-up jacket to match. According to Hughes, the managers are also not as hard on the boys that work at the restaurant. “Men make less money, and as a girl, we have to go through this, but we do make more money. Guys will come in and say they just came to be served by a woman.” Hughes said that she had a guy one time give her a big tip and then ask if he could touch her ass. “I was shocked and told him no he can’t, and he said, ‘But I gave you a nice tip.’”
Why keep working in the industry if you are being treated with such disrespect? Each of these students had the same answer: it’s quick and easy money. With student debt looming over their heads, all too many young women put up with the verbal and sexual abuse that accompanies the service industry. Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry is the elephant in the room, and it needs to be addressed. When the Ryersonian reached out to SIR Corp, the company that owns Jack Astor’s, no one was available to comment on their policy in regards to sexual harassment in the workplace.