This story was originally published in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL.
Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments.
I've worked as a bartender for a few years. I started in a pub, but I've been working in a cocktail bar for a year now. Quite a few things have changed since I started working here. I used to serve mostly students, but the audience I shake cocktails for now is more upper middle class. What strikes me, and actually makes me quite uncomfortable, is that I get sexual comments on a regular basis, and that women are touching me without my permission. We never really talk about this subject among bartenders or with the outside world—which is understandable considering we live in a world where women have always been dominated by men—but I think it's important to bring this up. Male bartenders are seen as sex conquests, and this needs to stop.
It strikes me that the freer a country is, the less etiquette seems to exist. Both men and women get drunk, and it seems like anything goes. Two months ago, a guy pulled his trousers down on the dance floor and started doing the helicopter. The people who were around found it funny, but I didn't really get the joke. I thought, "You're a guest here, so behave like one." The customer is king, but it's not true that we just have to swallow all of what you do. Unfortunately, that is quite often what people who come to the bar expect.
The two times I've gone home with someone, I felt like an object afterwards, or some kind of trophy that they can brag about with their friends: "I fucked the bartender of that bar!"
Which brings me to my next point: as a male bartender it's expected of you to cope with women who squeeze your ass when you walk to the warehouse to get ice, and to find it okay when they touch you again on your way back. If people are really drunk, I can put it in perspective. But if I really have a shitty day, I can get enormously cranky. Let me explain why.
Women have quite a habit of flirting with the bar staff, just as men often do with the female staff. It's part of the service industry, and you know that when you start. The only thing is that women don't seem so quick to give up as men do when they are rejected; they act like nothing happened, they laugh at my comments, and stubbornly retry their mission to score. Women often sit at the bar in groups for this mission of Getting the The Bartender. Even though there are plenty of bartenders who enjoy the attention, it's a cliché that bartenders want to go have sex with everyone. The two times I've gone home with someone, I felt like an object afterwards, or some kind of trophy that they can brag about with their friends: "I fucked the bartender of that bar!"
Usually it goes like this: women first try to make eye contact. That's nice at first, but if the same group of girls is watching you for three hours in a row, it gets a bit uncomfortable. A while ago, a group of women came sitting at the bar, and one of the girls was watching me all night. I found it quite adorable until her girlfriend sensually asked me, "What do you think she wants to order now? It's not on the menu." "I knew this was going to happen, but I answered with a joke: "I don't know, a glass of water or something?" The giggling suddenly stopped. They didn't know what to say and within two minutes they'd grabbed their coats and left. These girls had the image in their heads of the easy-to-pick-up bartender, and could not understand that I didn't fit that image. I don't find it a reason to walk away angrily when I don't accept the invitation. Yet it often happens.
It seems that the older the woman, the less shame they have. Women in their forties squeeze my butt far too often.
Anyways, maybe I would rather have that than the girls who stubbornly remain sitting at the bar until closing time, hoping that they can take me home. There was a girl at the bar once that expressionlessly asked me, "What do you want?" after I gave her a drink. I told her I had just stopped drinking behind the bar. "I didn't really mean that, I meant more in the sense of anything you want," she replied. I gave her a smile and I immediately left. She continued to stare at me and kept sitting at the bar. That was pretty creepy. She stayed there until closing time, but I didn't serve her anymore.
READ MORE: Just Stop Trying to Hit on Your Bartender
It seems that the older the woman, the less shame they have. Women in their forties squeeze my butt far too often. I'm uncomfortable with that. I think it's because young girls are still a bit uncertain, while older women care less about how their hair looks. They are more confident and have an I-have-nothing-to-lose attitude. They come on their own or with a few other older friends. When they're at the bar, you immediately realize they're here to hunt for bartenders. I heard from a friend who's also a bartender in a cocktail bar in Amsterdam that a woman who occasionally visits with her husband always comes to the bar on Friday alone. She always sits in front of the place where the guy stands to make cocktails. She makes sexist remarks about his muscles, his expression when he shakes cocktails ("Is this your facial expression when you cum?"), she always gives a 20 euro tip or even more, and she almost begs him to go home with her—and she's married.
Sometimes women hang over the bar to touch me. It's weird, and you can't really do much about it. It's expected of men to accept it.
The same goes for me: sometimes women hang over the bar to touch me. It's weird, and you can't really do much about it. It's expected of men to accept it. The idea is that the bartender's appearance equals sex, and that he's also likely to have sex, right? This image seems normal, yet it's considered sexual harassment if men stare at the tits of a barmaid all night or bounce the palm of their hands against her butt.
And another thing: when women try to flirt with me, they often want to score free drinks. I recently gave a round of shooters away, but when they wanted to go home and I gave them the bill, they found that weird. One of the girls, who was trying to flirt with me the whole evening and had written her number on a napkin for me, found it ridiculous and thought they would get everything for free. Eventually they paid and left angrily. An hour later the girl returned with another boy, who she smooched in front of me. I think she wanted to make a point, something like: "Look, I can score another guy." I get really tired of these situations.
A cocktail bar or pub is a place where people go to have fun. Men and women working in a bar know they sell alcohol, and alcohol will change people. I know it as well. I know it's a part of my job to babysit people at a certain point. People lose their brakes when they drink a lot and you will have to deal with that when you work in a bar. However, that doesn't make us some sort of candy, and it doesn't mean you can ask if you "can also order (my) penis". Let's not interpret this as normal. I know the hospitality industry can be a crazy place with lots of alcohol, but don't just sit at my bar because you want to have sex. Come for the cocktails—they're tasty as well.
As told to Roëlla van Gulik.