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. For this installment, we hear from a female owner of a bar who is sick of sexual harassment.
"Hey, with all respect, can I ask you a very serious question?"
One of my regular customers asked me this one day. Up until this point, I had nothing but respect for this guy, as I thought he did for me as well. He wore fancy suits every day and drove a very nice car. We would have some genuine conversations as I free-poured him generous shots, since he would come in every weekday after work and tip very well.
Then he had to fuck it all up by asking me a question that I did not see coming a mile away.
"Are you wearing underwear right now?"
I immediately lost all respect for this customer. It really annoyed me on the inside, but I managed to shrug it off, since you kind of have to when you are a woman in the bartending industry. I gave him a smartass response, since I wasn't and my lack of visible panty lines made it obvious: "Why the fuck do you ask what you are seeing in front of your face?" The worst part was that he had never acted flirty before, nor had I. He still comes in on a regular basis but it is not the same anymore. I am very cold toward him now and would even go as far as admitting to having a grudge against him since the day he asked me that.
This is just one of the many forms of sexual harassment that I deal with as a woman who owns a bar.
Here's another story that probably ruined giving away a free birthday shots. They were having a great time, so I was like, "Here you go!" They said, "Can I take it off your body? 'Cause you're so fucking hot. I would love to see what you taste like." I laughed and walked away.
Other scenarios involve a creepy customer staring at me while eating on my break and telling me, "I love the way you eat," and another situation where a customer once proclaimed, "I can smell your pussy." I also have never had to 86 anyone from my bar except for this lesbian who was obsessed with me and refused to go home, going as far as swinging at our security guard for kicking her out.
My parents have owned bars for longer than I have existed. I've always loved the nightlife, since I grew up around it my entire life. Since before I was even legally allowed to drink, I would help my dad around his bars and serve drinks to older men. That's when I first realized some of the ramifications that come when you are a young, female bartender serving a bunch of drunken men.
It wouldn't bug me much as a kid, because everyone knew I was the owner's daughter and wouldn't dare to touch me. But as I got older and began looking more like a woman, I started to get stupid little comments from my dad's male customers. Nonetheless, I brushed them off and wouldn't take it seriously. Little did I know that this early exposure to horny old men would prepare me for some of the comments that you get when you work behind the stick and have a pair of tits.
I'm pretty relaxed about our employee dress code. I tell all of my female servers and bartenders to dress all in black and in a comfortable way that will allow them to feel confident at work. Since most of them are under 30, sometimes this may mean a dress that is a little revealing. I remember in the first couple of days being open, we had an incident where a customer would not stop staring at one my cocktail waitress's chest. It made her feel very uncomfortable and she was asking me if I could have security kick him out, but there was nothing I can do because he was not breaking any law for just staring.
Professionally dealing with these dudes without losing their business is a daily practice in grace, class, etiquette, and street smarts.
As a woman, there is no way around the ugly truth that comes with the objectification of us while making you drinks: it sucks. It should not be accepted or acceptable to treat women like pieces of meat. At the same time, you can't get too mad about it because this is the bar life and you chose it. A lot of men drink and they say stupid shit when they get drunk. If you are a woman, you know the drill. Even if you are not working at a bar and wearing an outfit that will make you look like shit walking down the street, you will get catcalled or whistled at from strangers.
Working at a bar is just an extension of this social norm that has been this way since my generation, which is probably why my mom—who helps me around my bar now—always taught me to have a thick skin and never let it get to me. Still, professionally dealing with these dudes without losing their business is a daily practice in grace, class, etiquette, and street smarts.
We are just there to work and take your money. That's it.
It gets tiring, so to empower my female employees who have to deal with this, I always remind them: "Remember, we have the pussy, we have the power. What we say goes!" Also, at the end of every shift, you best bet that we are laughing about your failed attempt to hit on us. We make fun of you and the joke is on you. A compliment is a compliment and I will gladly take one, but once you introduce any kind of sexual reference, it stops being a compliment.
Recently, my mom and I have realized that this generation of misogynistic old men are dying out and are being replaced by a Millennial generation of guys who are a lot more respectful of women.
Some words of advice if you are a dude who likes to make rude sexual comments or hit on servers at restaurants: If you are sexually frustrated, please masturbate before coming into a bar instead of taking out your frustration on us and looking like a thirsty fool. Most of us are already in relationships. You are not going to get our number. You are not going to get laid or hook up with anyone. That only happens in porn movies.
We are just there to work and take your money. That's it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As told to Javier Cabral