“Does the carpet match the drapes?”
That was the question asked at 5:15pm on a Friday evening to a green-haired bartender at a large family-filled restaurant in Toronto by a sober patron.
I watched over my laptop as she uncomfortably smiled and dodged the question. Oh God, I remember thinking, I definitely don’t miss my bartending days, shuddering in a mix of rage and embarrassment at the flood of memories triggered by the incident.
There was the regular who would comment when my weight fluctuated. “Hey, Chubby Butt!,” I remember him yelling from across the bar to my 125-pound 5’6 self once his beer started to dwindle. “When are you going to marry a rich man to take you out of here?” was also a common one at the Yorkville restaurant. When I explained that I was in a grad program and what my personal career goals were, it was often met with looks of boredom. Of course, I can’t forget about the multiple requests to “bend over” again at the bar so that I could offer the customers a shot of my cleavage or as much leg as possible.
Oh, and I got asked whether by boobs were real by so many people (both men and women) that I became completely (somewhat shamefully) unfazed by it.
All I was trying to do was make a few extra dollars while I was in school. I remember trying to contain my anger and almost getting mad at myself for being too sensitive, given the environment. You chose to work at a bar, I’d remind myself. After all, I was raking in a small fortune in tips – something I’d never be able to do if I worked at a Starbucks.
But the thing is, nobody would behave that way at a Starbucks. If anyone spoke to baristas the way some do toward bartenders, they would likely be asked not to come back. Why is it that some feel that they can speak to their bartenders as though they are objects or there to serve their sexually-charged requests as opposed to cocktails?
Thankfully, there has been a long overdue and growing dialogue surrounding the treatment of female servers working in establishments across the country. Last month, CBC released a troubling CBC Marketplace investigation that revealed sexist dress codes at some of Canada’s most recognized chain restaurants. Such dress codes include things like dresses, heels, and a minimum jewellery requirement. Some even dictate hairstyles. The whole thing was maddening to watch: they’re servers, not strip club workers (and no, I’m not knocking strip club workers).
A few days after the Marketplace piece aired, an Ottawa restaurant got its male servers to work in heels and skirts or dresses for an evening to raise both awareness for the cause and funds for a local women’s shelter.
Anyway, back to a few Fridays ago at that Toronto family restaurant. Minutes after the whole classy carpet and drapes comment, another man (clearly noticing my lack of a wedding ring – I saw him check) persistently tried to strike up a dialogue with me, despite the presence of my laptop in front of me, complete with my perpetually typing fingers. Seriously, there was absolutely nothing about my body language that suggested I wanted to talk to him – or anyone for that matter. I was working – albeit with a glass of wine (but it was after 5pm on a Friday, after all).
Is a woman sitting at a bar an open invitation that she wants to be picked up, especially if she happens to be alone? Honestly, I’m wondering.
Anyway, the incident reminded me of another that happened a few weeks prior. I was sitting at a bar with two of my friends – a male and a female. We had just been at an art show and were in the middle of a conversation about it and other things. But distracting from this conversation was the group of three men who I kept catching from the corner of my eye.
The reason I kept catching them is because it was virtually impossible not to, with the look in their eyes suggesting that I should go over and chat with them – and probably leave with one of them. But why? There was zero about my body language that suggested I was there to be picked up or chatted with (by anyone other than my friends) in any way.
Well, the booze probably played a role. Actually, it’s safe to say that it definitely played a role. But I also think that the mentality of some literally shifts the moment they walk inside a bar (even if it’s a bar at a family restaurant). It’s like it gives them permission to behave in ways they wouldn’t in any other setting.
I get that bars, clubs, and pubs are prime breeding grounds for pick-ups and have been forever. And I have no problem with that, having been guilty of “going hunting” (as my single girlfriends have shamelessly called it) at the bar for potentials in the past. But the presence of free-flowing booze, a hot bartender, and fellow drunk patrons seems to mark an open invitation for some – drunk or not – to both behave inappropriately toward the staff and hit on uninterested customers without any sort of invitation to do so.
I’m not suggesting that we start treating bars like churches. They most definitely are a place to let loose and get into a little hangover-inducing trouble here and there. And of course, they’re a good place to meet fellow singles. But being in a bar is not an excuse to forgo your morals, class, intellect, or ability to read people for the night.
Seriously, ask yourself, “would I behave this way in a coffee shop?” If the answer is no, stop being a d-bag and try being more like an adult. Trust me, it will get you a lot closer to your end goal – no matter what that happens to be.