There is a growing population of women in fine dining restaurants these days. While I’m nothing short of happy about that fact, we are still a small number comparatively, especially when looking at the fact that the restaurant industry as a whole is comprised of 52% females. For ladies in the kitchen, only 19% are hired as Chefs. Yes, it’s growing, but the numbers are still too small in each individual fine dining restaurant to gain traction.
Over the years as a server in several fine dining establishments, I’ve found, through personal experience, that women are not taken as seriously by guests as their male counterparts. The degrading remarks that I’ve heard are appalling, and they aren’t just coming from guests, but co-workers as well. Almost 37% of all sexual harassment claims have been from the restaurant industry, and in all honesty, I wasn’t shocked. I’ve had a table of men ask me for the gentleman, their real server, that they didn’t think I knew as much – when in reality I was the Captain of that table and the gentleman they were referring to was my server assistant. I’ve had a man tell me that he thinks it’s cute when I try to get everyone’s attention and he can’t help but laugh when I talk. Then there are the men who’ve tried to barter back rubs for larger tips. These are just a handful of instances that have happened to just me, and they go on like that almost every night.
Then there’s the lack of benefits, mainly due to the fact that many fine dining establishments (and others) are small businesses with less that 50 employees, which means they don’t have to offer benefits at all. While not having benefits affects both males and females, the issue with maternity leave can put women in an unsatisfactory position. Either they take the leave they need and risk not having the same job to come back to, or they don’t take the time off their body and child needs. Eater just did a fantastic piece on this topic here.
While uniforms are rarely ever brought up, especially when there are much larger issues like maternity leave and sexual harassment claims, I think this is one of the easiest ways to feel forgotten as a woman – to feel like you’re femininity has been stripped. My uniform has always been a second thought. I’ve been asked to purchase a men’s suit for work and told to “just get it tailored” because there weren’t enough women to order the proper uniforms. There are other instances where I was able to purchase my own suit, but it had to match the others, and because I wasn’t part of the larger (male) group, I didn’t receive any discounted price. Beyond the clothing, I’m restricted to minimal make up and jewelry, and even my nail polish can only be certain shades. I’ve seen a girl get sent home from work for having the wrong color nail polish. For me, it has always been an issue that dulled my femininity. Everyone has to look the same, be a team. Since the majority of my team has always been male, well, that’s what we have to be. These are my personal experiences within the fine dining sector of restaurants, but I know it affects women in other areas of the industry. I may be the only person that has ever seen this as an issue, but for somebody who is passionate about fashion and femininity, it’s a problem worth talking about.