Sex harassment rampant in restaurants, but you knew that

GlassFloorHarassment is rampant in the restaurant industry, according to a report published today by a pro-worker non-profit group.

Anyone who’s ever worked in the service industry knows this: If you want cooks to take care of your orders, you have kiss up to them.  If you want better tables, you have to kiss up to the manager. If you live off tips only, you better kiss up to the customers. Women have it particularly hard; in many situations, they must kiss up by wearing more revealing clothing.

Everyone knows this, apparently, except restaurant owners, who get away with paying wait staff $2.13 an hour under a quirk of minimum wage law that no sane person could explain.

“These recycled attacks are part of a national, multimillion-dollar campaign engineered, organized and funded by national labor unions and their allies seeking to disparage an industry that has no barrier to entry and no limit to what employees can achieve,” said Katie Laning Niebaum, vice president of communications of the National Restaurant Association, to USA Today.

The report goes to great pains to link the shameful sub-minimum-wage pay rate to harassment, using data to show rates are higher where pay is lower. I find that hard to believe. Paying someone another $5 an hour isn’t going to make them immune to “kitchen talk,” or make them behave better. The conclusion might make you question the scientific validity of the study (something you should always do). In this case, the workers’ group surveyed 688 current and former workers across 39 states.  If great pains were taken to carefully select that sample size in a representative fashion, the national results could contain validity.  The sample is too small to make any conclusions about  and sub-sets of the data, such as state-by-state harassment.

But then, you don’t really need a survey to see the truth of the findings, right?

Here’s some other highlights from the report:

  • While seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, more than a third (37%) of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry
  • Workers told survey-takers that they experience harassing behaviors from restaurant management (66%), co-workers (80%), and
  • customers (78%)
  • Sixty percent of women and transgender workers,12 and 46% of men reported that sexual harassment was an uncomfortable aspect of work life
  • One in two of women report experiencing scary  or unwanted sexual behavior
  • Thirty of women, and 22% of men, reported that being touched inappropriately was a common occurrence in their restaurant.

I can spot someone who’s waited tables — and someone who hasn’t — a mile away. I consider it a badge of honor that I still work part-time in the service business. I remember being a teen-ager and being absolutely terrified to walk back to the kitchen and tell a cook I’d gotten an order wrong, knowing he was about to make me suffer (and make my table wait) because of where I sat on the pecking order.  Nothing a few bucks at the end of the night couldn’t fix.  As always, this wasn’t really about hazing, or teaching me a lesson, it was about power. It was a good lesson in life, but I know I had it easier than my female counterparts.

I often get frustrated talk of political correctness and gender rights because it seems so theoretical and often doesn’t filter down to the places where it really needs to be.  No one should feel pressured to flirt to get a paycheck, or worse, that they can’t get a job or can’t get decent hours because of their looks or their age.  For millions of Americans, that’s a reality. Those are the folks who deserve our help and support.  Stop doing it, stop ignoring it, stop patronizing it. And tip well.

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About Bob Sullivan 1538 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.