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How Are Women Treated in the Restaurant Industry?

Women are vulnerable in every part of a restaurant, whether they are behind the bar, at the hostess stand, or in the kitchen. Early in their careers, women are taught that lewd comments and sexual harassment are parts of the “culture” of the kitchen, and that complaining about their experiences only justifies the idea that women are too weak for the restaurant industry. The Washington Post interviewed 60 people across the country who claimed they have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in a restaurant, and each of their stories gives testament to why something needs to change in this industry.

Abuse can occur everywhere, from upscale eateries to suburban chains, and can be committed by people of every rank in the kitchen, even customers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, 56 percent of bartenders, 70 percent of servers, and 80 percent of hosts are women – clearly a majority of the front of the house staff in most restaurants.

Sola Pyne, now 33, says that during her time working at a sports bar in Washington, she was harassed by drunk, off-duty police officers who repeatedly asked her what kind of underwear she was wearing. When Pyne reported it to her bar’s manager, he laughed.

Stefanie Williams told the Washington Post that she was groped by a regular customer while working as a cocktail waitress at a New York steakhouse. He put his hand up her dress and under her underwear. After harassing her a second time, she told her manager that she wanted him escorted from the bar. The client left, but returned later with no repercussion. Williams believes that this is because of how much money he was known to spend at the bar. It is disheartening that managers care more about money than the safety of their female workers.

Uncaring managers appear to play an important role in the ongoing issues women face in the restaurant industry. Either they brush off reports women make about the harassment they are experiencing, or they are the perpetrators themselves.

Miranda Rosenfelt, now 31, was doing inventory when she was raped by her direct supervisor. He trapped her in the basement of the restaurant and forced her to perform oral sex.

Maria Vazquez, now 52, was raped by restaurant owner Arthur Boone for eight years before she finally sued him. Vazquez is a monolingual Mexican immigrant and felt that she could not confide her experiences with anyone because he threatened to cut her pay. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable in these situations because they are less likely to report their experiences to the authorities in fear of being deported. Although Vazquez successfully sued Boone, she has yet to see a single cent of her million dollar settlement.

It appears that the restaurant business sets its financial priorities over protecting the people who work in the restaurant. However, the industry is not all bad: recent nonprofit organizations have been created to pursue preventative measures for assault in the workplace. One, for example, is Medusa, a group that strives to create better practices for bars and restaurants regarding harassment. Unfortunately, with managers and owners as the perpetrators of harassment in many cases, it’s hard to determine if increased regulations on sexual education and no-tolerance policies for inappropriate behavior would be effective.

Regardless, more needs to be done to stop the abuse of employees at every level. We can only hope that bringing awareness to the dark side of the restaurant industry will lead to a change.

Featured Image by Emilio Labrador on Flickr

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