Job Description: Dealing With Sexual Harassment

While showing more skin than usual to customers might help servers get more tips, just smiling and making conversation allows them to make extra cash. But, along with tips sometimes come something beyond what servers desire. Servers’ attractiveness may cause them to encounter excessively long stares and even sexual requests from customers on a regular basis; at least that’s the case for many of the servers at Hooters in Costa Mesa and Claim Jumper in Irvine. What varies is how the servers react when a customer hits on them.
Unstained wooden floors and tables, stools with orange plastic seats and white and orange Christmas lights decorate the windows creating the setting of Hooters in Costa Mesa. Televisions are on every wall and corner, playing different professional games or bikini contests. Female servers, generally in their early twenties, wearing skin tight orange short shorts and low cut white tank tops walk around serving Hooters’ famous chicken wings that also happen to be orange.
Hooters Girl Megan Goza walked over to a table where a large man, twice her age, was sitting with a dirty wad of cash on the table. ‘I’ll give you a thousand dollars to have dinner with me and cuddle with me afterwards,’ he said to her. He was serious.
Goza’s mouth tightened and she felt nauseous as she turned and walked away from his table. She let another Hooters Girl pick up the man’s table. His comment was the worst one she had ever received from a customer. Now, whenever the man sits down at Hooters she makes sure to avoid his table.
Luckily, for Goza she doesn’t have to worry about giving too much attention to one customer. Hooters has a triple E rule: ‘Every Hooters Girl, Every customer, Everyday.’ So, the Hooters Girls go around to every table and sign their name on a napkin. This allows the customers to see most of the girls as well as place second food orders.
Unlike Hooters Girls, servers at the Claim Jumper in Irvine are assigned to tables and do not have to go around greeting customers at unassigned tables.
Customers walk through the Claim Jumper doors, cleaned and polished twice daily, into the waiting room where hosts are dressed in black pants and collared shirts. In the dining area, servers wear black pants and loose white blouses with neckties and aprons. Generally, the server’s loose clothes obscure physical traits like noticeable curves, soft or muscular. Pretty much the only distinguishable and revealed part of the server is their face.
Server Alli Carter, 22 years old, went to a table where a man who looked at least ten years her senior sat. His belly hung over his pants and touched the table when he leaned forward.
Habitually the man would ask her out. He once told her that she could marry him, take all his money and he wouldn’t care. Most of the time she told him that she was not interested because she had a boyfriend.
One time he said, ‘If your boyfriend mysteriously died would you go out with me?’
Carter’s eyebrows turned downwards and she said, ‘That’s not very nice,’ then she walked away. Shamelessly, the man continued to sit in her section of the restaurant and ask her out.
The man would tell Carter about his life and ask questions about hers. Following the restaurant’s customer service policy of being kind to customers, Carter remained cordial and answered his questions. She wouldn’t disclose too much information to him though. When asked if she lived alone she told a white lie that she lived with her mother. When he asked what days she worked she didn’t tell him her full schedule. She made sure not to tell him what times she went home or to school.
Carter told the hosts not to seat the man in her section. Even if he requested to sit in her section the hosts usually said she was not available. Eventually the man took the cue and stopped trying to sit in Carter’s section although he remains a regular at the Claim Jumper.
If a customer sexually harasses Carter she tells a manager. But, most of the time she is not afraid to assert her discomfort to a customer. ‘If they say something disrespectful I’ll say, ‘Don’t say that,” said Carter. ‘They need to be put in their place.’
Hooter Girl Kelly had a more passive way of dealing with sexual harassment. She generally just ignored offensive customers by walking away.
When she walked up to a family that was sitting on one of the center tables of the restaurant to take drink orders, a man at the table, with long wavy brown hair and sunburned skin, said, ‘Do you want to see my ID?’ Then he undid his pants button and pretended to unzip his fly, ‘I’ll show you my ID.’ Although Kelly did not laugh, the man did. Instead, she ignored him and focused on getting the other customers’ orders.
‘If you’re gonna say obscene comments I’ll just walk away,’ Kelly said. ‘I usually don’t let it get to me.’ She experiences these comments nearly everyday. Whether Kelly is desensitized to sexual harassment or very strong at not letting it affect her emotionally, is difficult to tell. When a customer makes her uncomfortable she avoids the table or visits it minimally. While customers try to use Kelly as a means to some level of sexual satisfaction, Kelly does not consent to being used physically and mentally.
Recently Hooters started serving drinks on the floor, rather than just at the bar. With alcohol served throughout the restaurant, Kelly realizes that her customers could become more aggressive. Kelly is careful not to serve anyone too many drinks.
While serving too many drinks may lead to trouble, so could a smile. Claim Jumper server Gwen McClure is careful not to be too friendly to customers. One time a guy kept looking at her. She would smile because she felt awkward about ignoring him. However, this just encouraged him. He soon told the bartender, ‘She’s vibing me.’ She had no intention of hitting on him, but being friendly to customers made it look as if she did. From that point on she ignored him and was careful about smiling at customers.
Male servers are hit on and find themselves in awkward situations as well. Claim Jumper Bartender Cris says women give him their phone numbers and ask him out, making him feel uncomfortable when he says no but has to continue serving them. But, if he’s attracted to the women, then it’s flattering and he’s fine with being hit on.
Although male servers are sexually harassed too, the majority of harassment complaints come from female servers. Statistically and historically women file more sexual harassment complaints then men in the workplace.
While the term ‘sexual harassment’ has been around for over 30 years, it was not until 1991 that the issue reached national attention when Ana Hill testified that Clarence Thomas, now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, had made sexually crude comments to her. Hill claimed that she was sexually harassed in the workplace. Despite Hill’s testimony, Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court with the majority of the public supporting his story rather than Hill’s. Like many people who are sexually harassed, Hill had difficulty proving it.
Thankfully, servers at Hooters don’t have a difficult time convincing Managers of sexual harassment. As soon as they show a manager that they are upset by a customer’s comments or actions, the manager will ask the customer to leave or force them out. However, there is pressure for Hooters servers not to be uncomfortable around vulgar comments. Goza said if a girl cannot take customer’s comments then ‘They’re kind of soft.’
‘Girls quit [because] they can’t take it,’ said Goza. For this reason Goza said that there is a fast turnover at her workplace.
For the girls that can handle their job, Goza is proud of them. ‘A lot of us have become stronger as women,’ she said. ‘I’ve become stronger by not letting people discourage me. I used to take things personally but working here I just become like whatever.’
Claim Jumper servers have their own ways of dealing with sexual harassment too. Some of them ignore the rude customers and don’t let comments bother them and if they do, they will tell a manager. Others let customers know when they are being inappropriate. If a man twice McClure’s age asked her out she would assert, ‘No. I’m 21 years old and eww that’s gross.’ But at the same time, she has to censor herself. She can’t say what she would want to say if she were outside of the restaurant because of customer service policies. Servers are supposed to let managers deal with conflicts with customers. Nevertheless, she accepts this part of her job and deals with sexual harassment in ways that she can.
Hooters girls work in a sexualized environment. Their Web site admits it, ‘The element of female sex appeal is prevalent in the restaurants.’ Hooter Girl’s skin-baring outfits encourage sexual jokes and obscenities. But, should working in a sexualized environment condone vulgar comments?
Claim Jumpers hardly has a sexualized environment, unless sex appeal consists of a polite smile. Yet, sexual comments are made, such as when a customer told a server that she would look better working on a pole.
While it may seem obvious that the title of restaurant server does not entail sexual service, some customers cross the line. In these cases should servers speak their minds or is it a part of their job to take sexual comments lightly? Ultimately, the server decides.