From the contact to her automobile, the Winnipeg waitress says the client harassment is getting worse
A Winnipeg waitress says she has experienced severe sexual harassment from male customers so often that she now expects it to happen every shift.
“On an average day, I just expect to be harassed. I am called by name. I am touched. I get yelled at … I get strange condescending names from older men, ”she said.
CBC doesn’t name her because she fears the consequences if she speaks up.
She’s been experiencing this kind of harassment since she started working at a family restaurant four years ago, she says.
Now at the age of 20, she works in another facility and the harassment is escalating.
“I was followed to my car … I made jokes at a few tables about drugging my water bottle,” she said.
Customers have been kicked out of the restaurant and some have even been banned by management for abuse of staff. But the abuse continues.
The way we raise young men and boys helps them to molest women later.– Winnipeg waitress
The waitress says her staff are experiencing similar harassment, and some have sought therapy to deal with the abuse – with one even being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She isn’t the only one to notice an increase in abuse.
Earlier this month, a Regina pub owner went on Facebook to address the “rampant toxic masculinity” and to raise awareness of the treatment of female employees by men.
“It’s about power, not about sex,” says the expert
Adriana Berlingieri, a research fellow at the Center for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at the University of Western Ontario, says power imbalances are at play for women who work in the hospitality industry.
The precariousness of the work itself, the tipping culture, and an over-representation of women in front of the house positions all contribute to sexual harassment being rampant.
“Often times, people think that sexual harassment is about sex and it’s not. It’s about power,” she said.
“It’s really about the fact that men have more social power than women because of gender inequality.”
In the service industry, too, there has long been the belief that the customer is always right.
Berlingieri calls this “customer sovereignty,” and it creates a strange relationship between worker and customer – especially when it comes to tips.
Talking about harassment can mean losing money, receiving a guest complaint, losing shifts, or possibly resigning.
But the owner of The Tallest Poppy says, “Sometimes nobody is right.”
“The customer is sometimes right. Sometimes the waiter is right,” said Talia Syrie, the owner of the restaurant on Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg.
“It doesn’t matter – nobody counts the points.”
Talia Syrie, owner of Tallest Poppy, has a zero tolerance policy for harassment in her restaurant. (CBC)
But there is an imbalance between customers and workers in restaurants, she says.
“If you get into a business and you don’t like something about it, you can leave. But your employees need to be there by the end of their shift,” said Syrie.
“If you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, you don’t have as many options as a customer.”
She believes that there is some kind of contract that is made when entering a restaurant: a customer is served, and the customer, in turn, treats the waiter with respect.
Anything else is unacceptable, she says.
“The idea that this person’s job is to be your punching bag or doormat or repository for any kind of nasty junk you want to spit on them … it’s ridiculous,” Syrie said.
“I don’t know who’s teaching people that.”
The Winnipeg server that spoke to CBC believes it is a societal issue.
“We socialize men so they don’t care how women feel in situations like this. The way we raise young men and boys is conducive to later molesting women.”
Imposed on workers to act
Syrie has a zero tolerance policy for harassment at The Tallest Poppy.
She has attended workshops with Red Tent – a volunteer collective in Winnipeg that provides advice and training on creating safe spaces – and encourages others to do the same to create safer spaces for their employees.
She understands that as a small business owner, she has the privilege of being able to easily implement policies – something that chain restaurants with larger management structures cannot do so quickly.
Berlingieri too often says that the duty to act lies with the workers who experience harassment. This includes the suggestion to just stop.
“Why should you quit a job that you might like or that suits your lifestyle? And why should you have this loss?” She said.
The server that spoke to CBC compares asking them to quit their jobs with asking women not to go alone at night or not to wear revealing clothes.
“I’m not going to end my life because some people don’t understand how to treat women or talk to people in the restaurant industry,” the server said.
“If I lived my life like this, I would stay home and never do anything. It’s not my problem that you don’t know how to act. “