Hospo, we have a problem. The last post I wrote was about the hospitality industry’s reliance on alcohol and drugs to deal with stress (as pointed out and challenged in the comments it’s more stressful for us than being a neurosurgeon). Lots of discussion followed about how it happens and how difficult it is to get support when the stress levels are high all around you.
Don’t worry this post isn’t preaching to you about not doing drugs and shots of fernet after a shift. It’s trying to scratch the surface of why it happens. There’s way too many reasons but this is one we, as an industry, seriously fail to address.
So yes TRIGGER WARNING (I never expected to write that, I write about cocktails and beer).
From the outset I need to state this; what you are about to read is disturbing, will make you angry and only addresses one tiny part of a massive issue that covers all of society. It also only touches briefly on a topic which the female members of our industry suffer all. the. time. Like every second of the goddamn day they are dealing with it.
Please don’t think I’m only addressing the male perspective either, just trying to talk about how industry workers as a whole are treated differently than other jobs. I am interviewing some of the best female bartenders and hospitality professionals for a deeper look into this issue in the next post because honestly I am no white knight and my voice isn’t as important as theirs.
Set the Scene
You’re a mid-twenties cocktail bartender, still shaking off the term “mixologist” while growing your beard and contemplating tattoos. A group of 30 or so show up unannounced late at night, most of them are your friends so it’s no big deal, they’ve just brought people from a business networking night.
You’re severely understaffed but start smashing out cocktails, smiling and charming as many at a time as you can handle. Not a single person here is attractive to you and none of that matters because you can’t wait to finish the night, pack down and go home to your partner.
Your friend, a businessman you trust and admire, signals to you during a quite period and as you side up to his end of the bar he orders a glass of wine and asks:
“Are you alright mate?”
“Yeah, great! Why?”
“Some of the women were complaining about your service.”
This is a bit shocking, plenty of smiles and speedy service in the situation, “Sorry I’m a bit under the pump with everyone. Were the drinks bad?”
“No, they just said you don’t flirt with them enough. You’d make more money and tips if you flirted with them more.” He gestures to a group of women all roughly twice your age.
“But I have a partner? Even if I didn’t it’s not like I’d find any of them attractive.”
“Mate would she really care? This is just business and good service, it’s not about what you find attractive.”
Is he right?
Pull out like a camera lens right now on me doing a solid impersonation of a goldfish trying to wrap my head around this. Cue time-lapse and days being torn off a calendar while the sun and moon spin around the world a few times (forget physics and facts, post truth society y’all).
Zoom back in and it’s a month later, you’re in the coolroom/walk-in grabbing some more limes for the 8 customers still left at the end of the night who really need a margarita. The couple parked at the bar clearly need their friend to leave so they can go back home and get it on in some barely coherent, drunk, white person’s version of Marvin Gaye.
The door closes and you spin around in case the chef is locking you in again and he’s off giggling like a schoolgirl next to the fryer. No, it’s not the chef. She’s there. Not the friend, the lady from the couple at the bar.
She walks over to you and without warning shoves her hands down your pants, “Kiss me.”
“Whoa, wait a minute your boyfriend is just out there. What the hell are you doing?”
“Fiancee and who gives a fuck?”
“I do, stop it.”
She leans in and grips your junk again, “You’re so hot, please fuck me.”
“I have a partner, I love them, I’m very flattered but please don’t.” You push her away gently and she looks incredibly confused, a little bit hurt and just leaves.
By the time you get back to the bar they’ve skipped their tab and left, their friend hurriedly trying to down the last of their leftover drinks before running out as well. Assholes.
Now I know some of you are sitting there like “Is he complaining?” “What a lucky bastard, I’d have hit that then and there.” “What a pussy!” or something similar, maybe you’re even thinking “I have to deal with that all the time, quit bitching”. I don’t think you’re a bad person but
Ever heard a conversation or read the news about some kind of sexual harassment epidemic and thought “Sure glad I don’t do that and have never seen it. I don’t get why they say it’s a culture anyway, it’s pretty rare from my experience.”
I’m not here to talk about that. Just keep it in the back of you mind.
OK back into first person mode. Pretend you’re playing DOOM only instead of aliens and guns you’re dealing with beers and shots, it’s two weeks after the walk-in incident and it’s your night off. You’re at an awesome bar with friends and they’re all deep into some conversation about computer programming or the latest Reddit trend. Plebs, why would you work in IT, away from customers, for great pay and regular hours… idiots.
So rather than looking stupid you order a drink from the girl behind the bar and smiling, try to be witty and talk about how her night is going. She takes your order with a smile but her eyes make you think she’d rather you stopped talking. Odd…
For some reason her responses are getting shorter and it’s clear you’re becoming more annoying than charming. What’s with this? Is it that you’re unattractive to her? Does she prefer roid heads like those douchebags further up the bar? It’s not like you’re trying to have sex with her but she could at least flirt back at little… oh.
She finishes making your drink, you pay and tip and she quickly turns around and walks towards the back door. The manager comes towards her and she avoids his eyes and steps around him almost shrinking back from his presence. She mutters something about needing a cigarette and the manager nods to the door and grins giving her a light spank on the ass.
“Don’t take 20 minutes like last time.”
Where am I going with this?
The Reality of the Service Industry
In the video at the bottom of this post I go into more detail but here’s a real quick history lesson. The hospitality industry came from two very different parts of society; servants and publicans.
One made the lives of the super rich even better by taking care of their every whim and relying on societal rules around what a master could and could not do, these were regularly ignored because, well money. The other sold alcohol and sex to any who had money.
These days we still live with the hangover from both of these expectations; that the one who pays us is to be considered our master and that part of this transaction is to be made to feel attractive or desired, possibly resulting in sex.
Who is the one who pays us though?
Is it the customer? The owner? The manager who gives us shifts? Or the consultant and brand ambassador who comes in hunting for event venues and potential reps?
Is the only person who we shouldn’t be considered a master ourselves?
For me the very definition of hospitality is making a customer’s life better and more enjoyable for the short period they are with you. You charm them, you joke with them, you convince them to spoil themselves with one luxurious drink just this one time, you make them feel like a lord or lady or that friend you really really like being around.
Payment is merely for the drinks and food you provide. Tips, if any, are merely for the entertainment and charm. You make them feel fantastic and rich, or relaxed and cool and they will spend as if they are these things every damn time. They aren’t entitled to it, it’s just what the job is supposed to be.
At what point are they supposed to feel desired?
Clearly there is a belief that this is meant to be a part of it. After all why do you want the attractive bar person to flirt with you? Why do you want the female bartender to show more skin or the male bartender to act as if he wants you and has no existence outside of that bar in that moment?
“Oh but Nick it’s just the alcohol, we all get like that after a few drinks.”
When is alcohol ever an excuse for that behaviour? If you think it is then you are literally stating that if you are drunk then it’s OK to treat people like objects who are there for your sexual gratification and ego.
“But if you flirt a bit, it’s all in good fun and you get better tips, everyone knows this.”
Bugger your tips.
What industry other than the sex/stripping/porn industry makes turning someone on and making them think about having sex with you a prerequisite to getting paid? Who talked to you on your first (probably unpaid) trial shift and said: “Oh and part of the job is convincing every customer you want to fuck them…”?
“You’re a guy though! You have no right to complain about this stuff.”
Right. Here’s a point that needs some serious unpacking.
Men have a duality in their potential in life; either you’re successful or a lazy failure. Women have a multiplicity; success, mother, wife, trophy, struggling, not-yet-married etc (notice how many seem to revolve around a relationship that ends up involving sex). Society treats men as one or the other and in order to obtain a partner you must first be successful, women can be successful without a partner yet society still tends to view success as having a partner and not in their career.
In hospitality success for men is the thousands of years old myth of becoming a manager or the really cool hipster bartender and brand ambassador, maybe one day owning a bar and making less money than working in a good bar. For women it is literally still the even older myth of the exit, you must leave hospitality after attracting a mate.
How many men think they can impress women by being wealthy or capable of providing when they’re just trying to serve a drink? Hell even I’ve enjoyed feeling good about giving a bigger tip to the pretty barmaid.
This is wrong. It needs changing. Slowly but surely women in our industry are starting to get the respect they bloody well deserve as workers and not as “hot bar chicks”.
The problem is if you’re a young guy set on achieving in the hospitality industry. When some customers are flirting with you and asking you to come home with them when you have no desire to, what happens You complain to a manager who responds:
“Mate you’re lucky! It’s the best part of being a bartender. Just keep working it, keep them happy and you’ll get great tips.”
Currently I bet the majority of you reading this agree with the manager’s reaction. Here’s the thing though, you’ve just validated the idea that some level of harassment by customers is OK.
That bartender who believes his only way of not being a fat lazy loser in society is to become a manager, learns this behaviour. He’ll flirt and hire female staff based on how they look and if they flirt rather than how they charm and how they mix drinks. He’ll tell his staff to “work it” or “milk it” when they admit to feeling uncomfortable around customers.
What’s worse is he’ll know that women deal with more than he ever did and as such that level of what’s “acceptable” is for them to set and none of his business. So long as they don’t give bad service or make the customers unhappy or make the owner unhappy. If they know what’s good for them they’ll just relax and have fun with it.
There’s no harassment, there’s just people that complain because they can’t handle it. Oh and they flirted with you during the job interview too so obviously they want you a little bit. Isn’t it everyone’s work fantasy to bang the hot new person in the store room in the middle of a shift?
Just pour some shots for the staff during the shift. Have drinks after closing with everyone. Rack up some lines or offer them some pills and make it all seem normal. This is the fun part of the shit work we do so make sure they enjoy it.
Drink and smoke and snort until your inhibitions are gone and they flirt back because it’s so fun to unwind after a shift. Tell them their partner doesn’t deserve them or if they don’t have one tease them about being too hot for something serious.
Wake up with them trying to push away, “No… stop.”
Are you uncomfortable yet?
The Difference Between Charming and Flirtatious
The service industry is one of charm. Not one of flirting. I don’t care if you work at Hooters or The Fat Duck, all across the board you are there to charm people not to flirt with them.
Here’s the difference;
Charming is you using all your wit and conversational skills to make someone feel important, valued, amazing and yes even attractive. Just make sure it’s attractive in a general “everyone would think you are attractive because you objectively are” kind of way.
It’s about improving their life for the moments where you are around and giving them the confidence to go for what they want. Making them feel awesome about themselves.
Flirting is using all your looks, wit, and communication skills (both physical and verbal) to make sure someone knows you want to sleep with them. It isn’t about making them feel attractive, it is about making them feel desired, specifically by you.
Know the difference.
If you’ve ever been in a management position this question has got to be familiar. “Who’s responsible for this happening?”
Personally I say fuck that question. The better one is “Who’s responsible for fixing it?”
You’re kidding yourself if you think we can fix this issue overnight or that one single person is responsible. Even that seedy bar consultant that got way too fucked up or the manager who thinks ass smacking is acceptable or that customer who won’t tip if you don’t let her fuck you… they aren’t solely responsible.
We, as an industry, are failing to address this. We, as a collective group of the most awesome put-up-with-metric-tonnes-of-shit-from-jerks-in-suits humans, are still failing to make our workplaces somewhere safe from sexual harassment.
We are failing to make our workplaces safe from the kind of bullying and gas lighting tactics that make people feel like they should just put up with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s customers or managers or other staff members or that disgraceful sack of shit that thinks coming into a bar as a consultant with industry celebrity status gives him the right to have his pick of your staff.
What matters is it happens because we, due to history, due to being the “serving class” due to mountains of stress and shitty pay and the need to get tips and the need to get more shifts just to make rent… we allow it. Not just the victims. Every bloody one of us.
You know the bar hotness effect right? That anyone serving alcohol behind a bar is instantly more attractive?
It’s not some weird phenomenon. It’s the fact that we’ve made it a cultural standard that a person behind a bar is down to fuck and secretly they want you. Whether it’s to help the hot girl escape from the shitty job or to give the virile young barman his first MILF experience, we’ve all accepted that as OK.
“But if we come down hard on customers we’ll scare everyone off.”
Yeah, you will. You’ll scare them to whoever is so weak they care more about money than their employees. You’ll scare off every petty customer who needs to be desired in order to part with their money.
But if you keep offering your staff up as objects to be sexualised by every customer in exchange for minimum wage plus tips you’d better make sure they know what they’re in for. If you train that barman up to think everyone in hospitality is hyper-sexual and loves to flirt… how much do you shoulder the blame when he becomes an ambassador accused of raping and abusing a string of women just trying to get into the craft cocktail industry?
Combine our current attitude towards this with the attitude in my previous article about substance abuse and alcohol. Do you want to grow up, have kids and tell them to get a bar job when they’re old enough? Tell them to be proud of working in hospitality because it’s hard and honest work?
Or do you want to tell me to bugger off? You’re only young once and you should be allowed to have fun and go out and be as sexual as you want.
I agree with you. You should. But you should choose when and where, you shouldn’t rely upon it to make life feel OK and you sure as shit shouldn’t have to put up with having it forced upon you by anyone.
You deserve so much better than that. We all do.
We all deserve to work in an industry where things like what the insanely brave women who posted on https://therealityofsexualassaultinthecocktailcommunity.com/ had to put up with, do not happen. I repeat Do. Not. Happen. Not reduce or become less traumatising… straight out do not freaking happen.
Maybe it’s time alcohol companies and venue owners stopped blowing money on parties to keep us happy, and flirtatious ambassadors to keep us buying their products. Instead how about trying something to make all of us safer and healthier?
That’s probably dreaming though. For now, it’s up to us…
I appreciate every one of you for putting up with the length of this epic post and if you work in the industry I appreciate you for being an awesome human being. If anyone wants to get in touch about this piece or would like to be part of the interviews around these topics, find me on social or email and say hey.