I don’t know how you got into those pants, but I’d love to try to get ’em off you.
I like you, you’re sassy. I bet you’re great in the sack.
So what else can you do with those hands?
This isn’t a roundup of things random men have said to me on the street. This is a small sampling of things I’ve had said to me in bars.
While I was working.
Workplace sexual harassment is having a national moment: #MeToo has spread like wildfire through Hollywood, and the movement has, finally, come to the restaurant industry, where perhaps it’s needed most.
Restaurants have the highest reported rates of workplace sexual harassment out of any industry in the country, and, thanks to #MeToo, we have seen the resignation or “stepping away from” of several prominent chefs who, while busy building a culinary empire and a small fortune, were severely mistreating the women in their restaurants.
But that’s only half the story.
Sexual harassment in restaurants takes place on multiple fronts: 66 percent of restaurant workers of all genders have reported harassment from management, 78 percent have been harassed by guests, and 80 percent have experienced harassment from their coworkers.
But, as the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) demonstrated at the end of March with the #MeToo in the Restaurant Industry panel discussion held at the State House, the state has a chance to fix this.
By getting rid of the tipped minimum wage.
“We’re about to hit 13 million workers in the restaurant industry,” Saru Jayaraman, founder of ROC, said. “That is one in 11 workers in the country, and one in 11 workers in the state of Massachusetts.
“Yet the hospitality industry continues to have the lowest-paying jobs in the country and in this state.”
As a bartender, I make $3.75 an hour, a wage that goes entirely to taxes. I am, therefore, fully financially dependent on tips from guests. And while tipping is deeply ingrained in the social contract of what drinking in a bar or dining out entails, nobody has to tip: Just ask any server who’s had zero dollars left for them because a table’s food took longer than expected, or a bartender who’s been stiffed because they cut someone off.
Or any woman working in a restaurant who refused to give a guest her phone number. Who, instead of smiling and nodding at the comments a man at her table made about her body, pointed out that his behavior is inappropriate.
When speaking up for yourself or maintaining professional boundaries hurts your bottom line, guess what?
You stop speaking up.
“Depending on tips gives every man in the restaurant incredible power over women,” Jayaraman said.
“The customer has power over her, because he needs to be pleased for her to walk home with any money. The manager has power over her because he sets her schedule and her shifts. And the kitchen staff has power over her; they know she relies on them to get the meal to please her table, all in order to get what she needs to please the customer to get the tip, all because we have allowed an industry not to pay its own workers,” she said.
This isn’t a synopsis of the next dystopian-future-based Netflix show, this is what one in 11 working people, a large majority of them women, face every day in Massachusetts because they depend on someone other than their employer to pay their wages.
“I’ve been asked to dance on the bar, wear impractical footwear, I was encouraged to flirt,” said Andrea Pentabona of a former employer. Now general manager of food and beverage at the soon-to-open Comedy Studio in Union Square, Pentabona organized February’s service industry V-Day events and performance, part of a global activist movement fighting to end violence against women and girls. Continuing about a former gig, Pentabona added, “As I’m sure you can imagine, none of my male coworkers were asked to do that.”
It goes deeper: “Servers who complained about similar unfair practices were never seen again,” Pentabona said. “And so I turned my head and kept my mouth shut when sexist, uncomfortable things would happen.”
One in two Americans have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives, and the hospitality industry is where many young people find their first job. “This is the industry that inculcates us into the world of work, that teaches us what is normal, acceptable, legal, ethical; this is how we are told what is harassment,” said Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunity Center.
The restaurant industry, in other words, sets the standard for the rest of the economy. And right now that standard silences the voices of the most financially vulnerable.
“As tipped workers, we are pawns in an extraordinary power dynamic,” said Marie Billiel, a server and ROC member. “Without a proper wage to depend on, we can’t break free of this system. We’re upholding a system that allows businesses to not pay their workers.”
Currently seven states—Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, California, Montana, and Minnesota—have eliminated the tipped minimum wage, and New York will become the eighth this fall.
States without a tipped minimum wage, who pay all employees at least the state minimum wage, have higher restaurant sales, higher rates of job growth, and higher tip averages. And their industry rates of workplace sexual harassment are, according to ROC data, half of those in states where workers depend entirely on tips.
In short: When you pay people who work in restaurants, things improve for everyone in the industry.
“It’s not impossible,” said Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Somerville’s Juliet, which does not have a tipped service staff. “When we set out to open a restaurant, we said everyone will be paid above minimum wage. … Because we want to create a workspace and work environment with dignity for everyone. And that’s impossible if you force a subset of your staff to work for their money from their guests.
“I think a number of businesses and restaurants will adopt this voluntarily, but we need a mandate. This is too important of an issue to rely on everybody having good judgment.”
And Massachusetts, we are so close to getting that mandate.
Bill S.1004, which would eliminate the tipped minimum wage in Mass, is set to be heard in the state legislature in May. Write your representatives. Talk to your friends and coworkers. Stay tuned for updates on this bill’s progress.
Everyone is entitled to a harassment-free work environment. No one should have to choose between feeling safe and paying their rent.
Time is up.
Join the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) in its Walk for Change on Sun, April 22. More info at barccwalk.org.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.