In a study conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, approximately four out of five female wait staff interviewed admitted that they had been subjected to sexual harassment on the job or during the hiring process.
Researchers say that harassment on the job is closely tied to the way waitresses are compensated. Most have to rely on tips to make up the large percentage of their income. Servers in restaurants that paid minimum wage reported the highest incidences of sexual harassment. Because waitresses share their tips with others, including managers, they are often asked or encouraged to wear certain types of clothing or to flirt with patrons. Respondents reported a broad spectrum of harassment, from sexually suggestive language to repeated requests for dates. Nearly two-thirds of the waitresses in the study said that harassment from management was persistent, occurring at least once a month. One in three admitted that they had been pinched or touched by a customer or manager.
The report also found that many restaurants require uniforms that accentuate the problem. Popular chains such as Hooters and Tilted Kilt mandate that female servers wear suggestive clothing. Twin Peaks, a new and growing restaurant chain, grades waitresses on hair, makeup and "slenderness." Twin Peaks also expects waitresses to flirt with customers.
A recent lawsuit filed against the chain Texas Roadhouse alleges that female applicants for waitress positions at its Columbus, Ohio, restaurant were required by the then manager to be "young, attractive and screw-able." The lawsuit also alleges that women who were hired were then pressured for sexual favors, offered job-related benefits if they complied, or punished with bad shifts or even fired if they refused.
EEOC officials say that they receive very few complaints from women in the restaurant industry, but participants in the study said there is enormous pressure to suppress any discussion of sexual harassment, and that a lot of the harassment has no witnesses, becomes a "he said, she said" situation, and poses the risk of retribution, including termination. Many women simply quit and go somewhere else.
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