Warning: Explicit Language
Being a server is quite the experience. Especially when you’re a female. Especially when you’re a young female. Okay, one more time… especially when you’re a non-white young female working at one of the most elite restaurant chains in Canada that only hires predominantly blonde and blue-eyed, white girls and attracts a ton of bachelor boys and businessmen that come “just for the girls”.
Servers are eye candy. In all serving jobs I’ve had, my job has been to “look sexy,” be entertaining, and be submissive to my male bosses. I have had to laugh at their jokes, never let them see me mad, and take their abusive “locker room” talk. Not just theirs- the cooks’, too.
In one particular restaurant in which I worked- one that I will keep anonymous and refer to as Restaurant X- my job was less about taking orders and more about entertaining men in different ways.
I know that sounds a bit extreme. But it’s true.
My manager told me from day one of training that customers are more likely to put up with “annoying behaviour/experience” if the person facilitating the service is attractive. Hence why they only hire beautiful people.
My manager boasted about me on my first day not because I killed it but because she found my dress code impressive.
The crude comments I got from men went from young bachelor boys saying, “YES! We got the hot one” and calling me “love” and “sweetheart” to old, married men staring me up and down and smirking at me as I handed them their lager.
And my managers loved it. At another serving job (Restaurant Y) my boss came up to me at the end of one night and excitedly shared a comment he had received about me from one of my tables. Apparently, a male customer had remarked to him in a sexual manner that “the service was good…. but your girls are even better”. My boss told me that this made him “so happy”. He really applauded me for my performance that night.
There was one time at Restaurant X where I was verbally assaulted by a man who was drinking at the lounge. Long story short, he called me a “fucking bitch” and threw his arm up at me as he jerked up from his seat and towards me. (All because he couldn’t sit at the exact seat he wanted because it was off-limits in efforts of COVID-19 physical distancing.) The whole lounge watched the man almost hit me and call me a “stupid fucking bitch” over and over again until he was halfway into the parking lot. They did and said nothing.
Neither did my managers. I went up to a group of three that were huddled together on the other side of the restaurant and told them everything. And out of the three- one of which was a woman – only one asked me if I was okay.
And guess which one that was?
Not the woman.
That was one of the first times in which I came face-to-face with the fact that women are not necessarily pro-women. They can be concerned with other motives and ambitions. Of course, to an extent, one can excuse their learnt behaviour as internalized patriarchy. But at some point, they have to be held accountable for the ways in which they maintain and replicate patriarchal structures.
All three managers were less preoccupied with the fact that I had almost been hit by a man and more concerned with “damage control” and how the outburst was going to disturb the “dining experience” of the customers at the lounge and make them leave a bad Google Review.
But I knew my managers had nothing to worry about. That there would be no complaints from the customers about the scene I was blamed for. I knew because all of the men in that room did nothing when I was assaulted. They just stared. For about 5 seconds. And then they went back to their burgers and beers.
And did you know that at this restaurant, only women are allowed to work the lounge?
Can you guess why?
Anyways, sexism isn’t the only form of oppression bred by Restaurant X; racism is also a natural consequence to any business that engages in monopoly capitalism and practices eternal aggrandizement (a colonizing mode of production).
I am an immigrant woman of colour. But not obviously so. And I have navigated the politics of appearing white to people and being treated as a ‘normal’ Canadian until they learn that I am a not in fact white and proceed to other me.
And the culture of Restaurant X is very colonizing. I did not provide my full name on my resume and rather used my “white-girl nickname.” I’m almost positive that their perception of me as a white girl helped me get an interview.
Why do I think that?
The boss that trained my training group told us that hundreds of people apply to this restaurant chain every month. Yet, the other 10 trainees there were white with white names. And out of 35-ish girls that worked at the restaurant, only two were obviously people of colour.
Working at this restaurant meant enduring micro-aggressions whenever someone learnt I was Mexican. After one of my nosy male customers learnt that I was from Mexico, he smirked and asked, “What’s your name? Let me guess: Maria?”
It means being treated as a museum when people learn you’re not white. Because they feel the right to intrude into your identity because they are white and the “natural ethnicity” to be in this country is white. And thus they are somehow afforded the right- the obligation– to police people of colour.
The boss told us on training day that the restaurant’s mission is “to be the most loved restaurant in North America”. Yet they don’t have any restaurants in Mexico. And, to my understanding, they don’t plan to open any.
How ignorant do you have to be to exclude the second most populated country in North America from your mission?
Of course, it’s not that they don’t know where Mexico is on the map. It’s less about ignorance and more about white supremacy.
I think people erase the presence of Mexico from North America because they can. Because it’s easy. Because it’s commonly done. And because it’s convenient. Because then you can make grand statements in your essays about something exciting happening in ‘North America’ without having to deal with explaining the burden of Mexico and how it just always lags behind “North American accomplishments”.
The restaurant’s mission, then, is racially motivated. It engages in the politics of erasure (of Mexico and other nations) from North America because it is socially, economically, and politically convenient to them. The authors of the mission statement are not ignorant at all; on the contrary, they are very conscious of what they accomplish by erasing these countries from their statement.
I was not the only person to deal with racism at this restaurant. Another coworker was asked by a table if they could be served by another waitress because they did not “feel comfortable” being served by an Indian woman. On another occasion, she was asked if she felt uncomfortable serving meat to customers because she is Indian and therefore obviously vegetarian. (Eye roll.)
On another occasion, a male coworker shared that he was asked by a table if he feels uncomfortable serving white people because he is Black.
What do all of these examples of racism have in common? They are committed by white people at a white restaurant meant for white people that employs (beautiful) white people to entertain other white people. The marketers for the restaurant’s branding think, “who would attract our target audience, which is white cisgender men?” And they decide on their perfect candidate. Because making the workers- the representatives- of a classist and elitist company blonde, blue-eyed women just makes sense. Apparently, they signal money, class, and a luxurious lifestyle.
So, as I’ve already said, the culture at this restaurant is quite colonizing. All token POC representations that they hire endure micro-aggressions from a clientele that is disappointed when they don’t get the experience they wanted. That they expected and feel entitled to. The brand of the restaurant naturally calls for and excuses white supremacy.
And it also calls for and excuses misogyny. That’s why the man that assaulted me felt like he could. It’s why he knew he would not suffer any consequences. And that’s why no one batted an eye when he called me a “fucking bitch”- not even my managers. It’s also why my bosses praised me when I dressed more skimpy. And why men weren’t allowed to serve the lounge.
It’s obvious I didn’t stay at the restaurant long. But I’m glad I got to experience all of this because it gave me insight into how wealth, white privilege, and sexism converge to build hierarchical and mutually-reinforcing systems of domination against people of colour and against anyone else that falls short of the brand of “luxury lifestyle.” It also gave me insight into how these systems are maintained by coloured and non-coloured men and women alike.
Serving can be fun. Serving can be beautiful. I sometimes reminisce on experiences I had in which I felt agency and empowered by knowing I was part of something special. Like the time I served a couple that was celebrating the fact that they were pregnant. Or the time I attended the family that came to celebrate their newly-graduated son. And all of the adorable first-dates I oversaw. And the mother-and-daughter brunches. These are experiences that brought me great happiness and a sense of agency. It is unfair that women and people in general have to put up with demeaning experiences in order to experience empowering ones. And it is unfair that we must sometimes choose between money and our integrity. These are the contradictions I reflect on when I revisit my server days from time to time. I wonder if other realities are possible.
I am a student of secondary education at the University of Alberta particularly interested in the experiences of intersectional identities in politics and history. In my writing and teaching, I focus on Indigenous relationships with capitalism, kyriarchal systems of power and oppression, identity (re)construction and negotiation in traditional culture and in diasporic and/or (post)colonial societies, and policy on refugee crises.