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Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry is Too Accepted

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Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry is as common as ketchup on french fries, but no one seems to do anything about it. It’s rampant in the back of the house between coworkers and just as much so in the front of the house with customers. A recent survey says that more than 70% of female restaurant employees have been sexually harassed.  Any woman who has waited tables for more than an eight-hour shift can attest to that. From the lecherous old man telling his waitress he can’t tip her unless she smiles at him, to the greasy line cook telling a young female server what she needs to do for him before he’ll cook the food she rang in, it’s an every day thing. Plenty of people say, “Well, that’s just how it is in the restaurant industry.” That is exactly the attitude that perpetuates the problem. So, what should someone do if they are being sexually harassed at their restaurant job by their boss or a coworker?

Let the harasser know this behavior is unacceptable

Too often, men think they’re being funny or complimentary when really they’re only making a woman feel uncomfortable. A simple “I don’t like that” should be their cue to stop what they’re doing, but everyone knows how often men like that don’t pick up on social cues. Say it again. And again. Keep saying it.

Take notes

When something happens, write it down. Notate what was said or done and when it happened. No detail is too small and if there were witnesses, take down those names in case corroboration is needed needed. Gather that evidence.

Report it

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Tell a manager or supervisor what’s going on. If there is a human resources department, they are the ones who should receive the complaint. Send an email to them with the words “Sexual Harassment Complaint” right there in the subject line. That ought to make them pay attention. Tell them the who, what, where, how and also let them know about witnesses to the incident. No need to name the witnesses, that can come later.

Speak up

There is power in numbers and if one person is being sexually harassed, they probably aren’t alone. Find out who else is in the same situation and work as a team.


If the harassment is coming from a customer, this needs to be reported to a manager at once. A good manager will step in and handle the situation. Any customer who is inappropriately touching a server or making unsolicited advances on them, should be asked to leave the restaurant and told to never come back. If the manager won’t do it, maybe there’s a bad ass waitress who has been serving tables since the dawn of time who will. An incompetent manager will ignore the situation implying that the harassed needs to develop a thicker skin. If that’s the case, go over their head about how poorly the situation was handled. Every boss has a boss.

The problem can be even more complicated for a server who works in a “mom and pop” restaurant where there is no human resources team and it’s the owner of the restaurant who is the problem. Again, tell the owner you don’t like what’s happening. Find others at the job that feel the same way and do it together. If the owner doesn’t seem to receive the complaint with understanding look for someone else to complain to. Maybe that creep of an owner has a daughter or wife who might have a sympathetic ear.

If all else fails, reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Just because sexual harassment has always been pervasive in the restaurant industry doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Nothing will change until more people, men AND women, speak out about it. Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry should not just be a given.

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Bitchy Waiter

Bitchy Waiter

Darron Cardosa is a writer, actor, singer, and waiter. He lives and and works in New York City and enjoys "The Brady Bunch," "The Facts of Life" and cocktails almost as much as he hates your baby.


  1. September 1, 2021 at 7:27 pm — Reply

    What’s more, sexual harassment has INCREASED during the pandemic (both pre-vax and now that vaccines [which everyone should take] are widely available):

  2. Vanessa
    September 2, 2021 at 5:53 pm — Reply

    I worked graveyard shift at a Lyon’s Restaurant in Sunnyvale when I was a 21-year-old college student in 1990. One night I was sexually assaulted by a busboy while the cooks behind the line just laughed. I had no idea how to handle the situation at that young age, so I just found a job at another restaurant.

    I’m sure situations aren’t quite as bad now, but I would have hoped for a lot more improvement in 30+ years in the restaurant industry.

  3. September 2, 2021 at 9:56 pm — Reply

    i’m a guy and i could tell you stories that would uncurl your hair . at 67 i’ve been a waiter for over 40 years !! today it’s a walk in the park compared to the way both men and women were treated not to mention anyone else !!!

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