Though women make up the majority of workers in the food services industry, many of them feel utterly unsafe at work.
A report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Forward Together found that 90% of female restaurant employees have experienced sexual harassment at work. The harassment overwhelmingly comes from customers and managers.
"Research shows that at least 1/3 of incidents of sexual aggression in bars is definitely intentional, and the other 2/3 is probably intentional," Jessica Raven, executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces DC, told Revelist.
"[Harassment] is definitely swept under the rug very frequently."
Revelist spoke to bartenders, waitresses, and other women in the service industry about their experiences with workplace harassment. These are their horror stories:
Lexi Sheppard, 25, New York
"Working in cafés for close to seven years, I've gotten them all, but my favorite has to be the jokes from customers when you ask what type of milk they'd prefer.
'Some of that milk' gesturing with eyes and/or limbs toward my bosom.
Larissa, 23, Pennsylvania
"I used to have a regular bar guest (who thankfully stopped coming in) and once he asked what I wanted to do with my future.
After telling him I wanted to open a bakery one day, he responded by telling me I should just have kids instead because '[I] have good genes and it's wrong for women to pursue careers because [their] sole purpose is to create children.'
Soon after that he told me, 'You seem like a nice girl but you would probably make more money if you dressed sluttier.'
I went home after my shift and cried because I can't stand how women are objectified anymore."
Natalie, 21, Georgia
"Former waitress of two years here.
I worked at a sports bar, and it took a while before I was willing to admit that I was in a relationship with a fellow woman to the people I work with (it's a small town and they're hardly the most open-minded group).
It was met mostly with apathy or the usual "exotic interrogation" in which they asked me about "how I did it" or "who wore a strap-on".
This frustrated me, but it wasn't nearly as bad as later on when my boss and I were talking about something alone, and he brought up that "I've heard having a guy in the middle really enhances the experience, I mean if you ever need a third person to step in I am more than willing...
He continued to make jokes about my sex life, and it made work so uncomfortable that I ended up quitting a couple weeks later."
Chelle Lynn, 30, Texas
"I was about 19, working as a hostess at a Red Lobster.
An older man and his grandson came in for lunch. With a wink and a jovial air, the gentleman asked for a table with our 'prettiest waitress.'
We didn't have any female servers that day and the guy seemed like he was just putting on a little joke for his grandson, so I sat him with one of our waiters and didn't think any more about it. An hour later he approached me with with a red face and a scowl, pointed his finger at me, and spat, 'Next time do as you're told.'
The grandson looked to be about five years old, which would put him around 16 now; I hope he grew up with better role models than his grandpa."
Anonymous, 36, Washington
When I was 19 I worked at a military sports exchange store on a post in Germany.
While working there, a particular male customer would come in to see me, which of course made me uncomfortable.
One time while I worked and he tried to chat with me, he told me about how I look sad when I'm in my living room by myself. I lived in military housing on the 4th floor. My living room window faced a playground.
I was in fact having relationship issues at the time and had sat in my living room, crying.
It really scared me that the man acted like he not only knew where I lived, but said he'd been watching me."
Stacie, 30, Michigan
"I work in a very upscale steakhouse as a bartender with usually very nice and calm clientele. This guy came in, and started off innocuous enough, joking about wanting to order with 'the pretty one.'
He had a total of two martinis and two coffee drinks with dinner. But as the night went on and I was dealing with other guests he became more crude, aggressive, and loud.
Another solo diner came in and sat next to him, and eventually joined in. Not only was it annoying, but humiliating. Every other guest and staff member could hear it. Including managers and my two male coworkers.
Finally, a man who was dining with his son walked over and told the guy he was being way out of line and it was time to leave. I thanked him profusely and hugged him.
He said, 'I just don't ever want my son to think it's okay to treat anyone like that.'"
Anonymous, 19, Texas
"I have 2 stories:
I was working my first serving job (was 17) and my first week a man smacked my ass and then turned to the other guy at the table and said, 'Thats why she gets the good tips.'
When I responded, he said to 'appreciate [his] money' and turned back to his conversation.
The other time was this past summer, a group of frat guys came in (not a generalization, they were all wearing shirts with their frat symbols on them) and they spent the entire meal jeering at me.
Any time I talked to any of them, the others would talk about how much I liked whoever I was talking to and when I set their food down one of them grabbed my wrist and commented on my scar (I have a scar on my left wrist from when I was a child).
He told me that if he was taking care of me, he would 'leave marks in a different place.'
I transferred the table to a different server and they spent 2 hours at the table and glared at me any time I walked near them.
As they were leaving the one who had grabbed my wrist yelled across the restaurant (I was serving another table) that I was an 'ugly cunt' anyway."
Amanda Bell, 31
"At the restaurant I used to waitress at the owner-manager used to always grab my elbow skin and rub it while talking to me. He said it was a "calming" technique his family used. How creepy is that?
Like, it's an innocent enough body part for someone to touch, but still. Gross."
Madeleine Maynard, 32, Toronto, Canada
"When I was getting divorced an elderly couple said I was still young and pretty and that I shouldn't worry because I would "be married again soon."
They made it sound like I didn't have a choice and that being married is more important than being happy."
Hope Bourque, 20, Connecticut
"I was a hostess for a big chain restaurant when I first turned 16.
I heard so many appalling statements from various people regarding wait times. One time that really sticks out in my mind was when the restaurant was short staffed. We were down one waitress who was late to her shift leaving us roughly 4-5 tables short. I, being the hostess, had to deal with the wrath of customers who were angry because they 'see plenty of open tables' and there was 'no reason they couldn't be seated.'
While explaining that those tables were unavailable at during this time, a man (who was there with his wife and a teen daughter roughy my own age) told me to 'hustle my buns back to a waiter' so he could 'address this personally with someone who was competent enough to be a host.'
I had never, ever felt so devastated or mistreated.
This was my first job and all I wanted was to do it right, which I was doing. To be treated like a lower class citizen as a young female, really terrified me and opened my eyes to how unfair women get treated in the work place."
Anonymous, 23, Wisconsin
"I was a barista in a small town for a few years. We had a few regular customers that I just couldn't stand — all white, cishet men in their 50s.
One guy in particular used to come in and every time he would comment on every female employee's appearance, including:
'You look pretty.'
'You two look alike.' (We didn't.)
And my personal favorite: 'You're losing weight!"
During his visits he also would regularly defer to male employees on any question of substance. Frequently I or a female coworker would answer a question about our products or something else coffee shop related and he would always ignore us and repeat the question for the nearest male coworker."
Anonymous, 35, Sunderland, UK
"I worked in a bar at a holiday camp. They had a promotion on a certain drink and we had to wear promotional tops (men had full long sleeve shirts, women had spaghetti strap vest tops) they only came in one size, which was two sizes smaller than me.
I was told I still had to wear it and I'm not a girl will a small bust. It looked a bit obscene.
Very few men looked me in the eye while I was serving behind the bar and more than one either spilled their drink or tried to make me spill the drinks when I was out on the floor collecting glasses.
I was 21, it's just something I accepted."
Anonymous, 19, Birmingham, UK
"I once had a customer come up to the bar in a pub I was working at. He and his friends were the first to enter the bar on a quiet Sunday evening.
The customer paid no attention to my male colleague who was also working the bar, and decided to grab my attention by shouting 'Oi blondie' down at me from over the bar.
I stood up and just said, 'Excuse me?' To which I think he just replied, 'Hi blondie.'
But after that I said 'I do have a name,' which was the wrong thing to say because after that of course he wanted to know it. I told him my name in an attempt to calm the situation a bit hoping that would be enough for him and he'd just order some drinks but instead what he decided to say was: 'Well then, Jess, feel free to flirt with me as much as you want while I'm here.'
I was 18 at the time this happened and this man was around 55 to 65 years old. He was with a group of men between the ages of 30 and 60, and none of which thought what he was doing was inappropriate.
They just smiled and laughed."
Anonymous, 21, Washington
"A guy made passes at me my entire shift and tried to hang around outside after we closed, waiting for me to leave.
A co-worker drove me home so I could get in his car without the creep spotting me (he was parked on the opposite side of the building). The whole time he kept looking at my name tag and repeating my name, which isn't inherently bad but it felt so possessive I asked to have my tag changed to my middle name so it didn't feel so personal and invasive if people called me by first name."
Ellie, 20, London, UK
"I'm a waitress at an Italian restaurant, and one time, a family party of 10-20 came in.
I was serving them, leaning over the table to pass plates etc, when one guy (there with his family, his ELDERLY family) grabbed my waist and whispered in my ear, "Are they tights or stockings? I'd like to find out."
I was so shocked I very loudly exclaimed that they "were tights, thanks for asking," so his grandparents etc could hear. He found it funny and started laughing with his family at my expense, until I loudly told him I'd just turned 16, and did he still want to find out?
That shut him up!"
Krystal Olsen, 21, Arizona
"I'm a bartender now, but when I was a server, some guy asked me if I would quit my job and he would pay me to have sex with him.
I immediately got him kicked out and was sooooo grossed out I almost threw up. He called me a bitch in the process."
Daniela, 23, New York
"I was working as a hostess as at a Michelin star restaurant and had been working there for over a year.
The maître d' had recommended me for a maître d' position that had opened up on the nights that I hostessed, which my general manager and business manager scoffed at. They said it was 'no job for a woman.'
Mind you I had to train the new maitre'd how to do his job and basically had been doing it for the past few months on my own. Thanks guys!"
Kerri Wetterau, Delaware
"One time I was told I had a promiscuous smile. WTF does that even mean?
Another time I was walking through cleaning a table and an acquaintance, drunk at this point, grabbed and hugged me. He told me he was trying to get some, and then went straight for my lips.
Jessica, 26, North Carolina
"I worked at a cigar shop in a military town, and every single guy it seemed hit on me when I was just being friendly for my job. I hated that job anyway, but what really made it terrible was on man who came in when I was working by myself.
I am a bigger chested woman (I'm a size D cup) with a small waist, and I'm numb to men staring at them without any sort of tact, but this guy was the worst. He was straight-up staring at them, stumbling over his words and even licking his lips.
He didn't listen to a word I said about the cigars, but just stared at me the whole time. Then, when I took his stuff to the register, he actually had the balls to look me in the eye finally and say 'I don't mean to be offensive, but those are lovely. Are they real?' And he was wearing his wedding ring.
I wish I could say that I owned his stupid ass, but I was so flustered all I could say was that his question was rude."
Kelsey, 27, New York
"[Someone once said to me]: 'I only order martinis from you because I wanna see them shake (gestures to my breast).'
There was also this: ''Why don't you quit your job, stay in my mansion in Southampton, have full access to my maids, butlers, drivers, etc. I'll give you a weekly 'allowance' of three times what you make here in a week; ALL you have to do is 'hang out' with me on the weekends when I'm out here.'
But generally I'm a big fan of: 'Oh, could you get my wife a Chardonnay over there at the end of the bar (*gets the Chardonnay and proceeds to charge him*), 'you've got a boyfriend? You know I've heard I'm a good one.'"
Madeline Wood, 24, New York
"I think the worst part of these situations is that we're expected to just 'take it' and smile and flirt back. You can't win.
Either you're a bitch for 'not taking a compliment' or you're a slut for giving in so that you don't lose the tip. Our tips depend entirely on how low cut our shirt is and how flirtatious we act. Out of all the responsibilities entailed with serving, having to pretend that these cheesy pickup lines were hilarious was the most exhausting.
The worst one always occurs right after I introduce myself: 'Do you spell Maddie with two D's?' ....'Yes.' *Nudges douchey friend* 'Those tits definitely fit the part!' and proceeds to point and stare at my breasts.
Before I've even taken their drink order I've been sexually objectified and need to decide how to react. Do I force the smile and giggle for a bigger tip or tell them to fuck off and lose the job altogether?
There was nothing more satisfying than the day I was financially stable enough to say, 'Fuck you, I quit.'"