Which Job Results in the Most Sexual Harassment for Women?

Sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality for a lot of women on the job, but there’s one career that seems to result in more unwanted sexual advances than any other: waitressing. As if keeping tabs on multiple tables at a time wasn’t stressful enough, female servers often also have to deal with being demeaned and objectified.

Although just 7% of American women work in the restaurant industry, waitresses comprise a full 37% of all sexual harassment claims filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Working with so many customers leaves waitresses vulnerable to all sorts of unsavory characters that might be sitting at their table. The vast majority of waitresses acknowledge receiving unwanted, suggestive remarks from diners under the guise of jokes. The harassment doesn’t stop there: waitresses are twice as likely to be touched and/or pressured to go on a date by customers than their male counterparts.

Why do so many waitresses put up with this behavior? Generally, it boils down to the fact that they’re working for tips. Most waitresses don’t even earn minimum wage because their income is supposed to be supplemented by tips. Since they are literally counting on these tips to get by financially, waitresses feel obligated to smile and ignore the harassment so as not to put their income in jeopardy.

At the same time, it’s important not to pass the blame off solely to the customers where management would be less culpable. In fact, 66% of waitresses report being harassed by someone at the management level. Furthermore, 80% report sexual harassment from coworkers. This mistreatment is particularly high in restaurants where there is a clear gender divide between a predominately male kitchen staff and a female waitstaff.

A lot of waitresses point to employee uniforms as part of the problem. Most restaurants have required uniforms, though often these outfits differ for men and women. Women are three times more likely to report feeling “uncomfortable” when wearing these mandatory outfits, generally due to their more revealing nature, which help prompt customers to make unwanted comments on the waitress’ appearance. When uniforms are not issued, that isn’t always a victory for waitresses either. Many waitresses report being encouraged by management to wear more provocative clothing to earn better tips.

Unfortunately, things don’t seem to get much better for waitresses who switch professions. Even women who get out of the industry altogether leave with a lowered sense of self-worth. According to the data, three out of four former waitresses who go on to experience sexual harassment in their subsequent jobs stay quiet and tolerate it rather than objecting to the treatment, in part because they consider it a normal part of a workplace environment.

In addition to providing this disheartening information, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United also offered some suggestions for reducing sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. The top priority the organization advocates for is paying the waitresses a living wage rather than a sub-minimum wage rate.

Not only will women have more autonomy over their bodies when they aren’t desperate for tips, but customers and colleagues will inevitably view them with more respect when they aren’t being dehumanized by substandard wages.

122 comments

Sue H
Sue H1 months ago

Sorry statement about lack of respect. :(

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Jerome S
Jerome S1 years ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

This is what my guess was. Constant exposure to different folks all day. I admire waitresses who can manage through the day and still have a smile on their face. I really don't think I could.

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Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F4 years ago

not much has changed has it???

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Chad Anderson
Chad A4 years ago

There is power in a union-organize, demand a decent wage, and force good treatment

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Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride4 years ago

I can understand that waitresses are more at risk re sexual harassment in their jobs, too many different types of people they have to deal with, including drunks. When they are expected to wear provocotive clothes in order to get tips, this is obviously asking for trouble & is totally demeaning for the women concerned.

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Emma S.
Emma S4 years ago

I worked as a waitress when I was younger. Mostly people were fine. The worst thing I ever encountered in the way of silliness from men was from a drunk, who kept mentioning my earrings. Then he said, 'Do you know the best thing a young lady can put behind her ears to make herself attractive to men?' I wasn't really very interested in the answer, so continued clearing the table. The man leaned across and said, 'Her ankles.' I gave the man a hard stare, the people at his table were extremely embarrassed and apologised for him, and my employer - who'd overheard the exchange - swept in and dealt with that table for the rest of the evening, and later apologised to me. It seemed everyone was apologising except the person who needed to. (I don't wear earrings much any more.)

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Angela P.
Angie P4 years ago

I worked as a waitress and bartender years ago. It was a daily thing to get hit on and have to deal with customers and not lose control and still give them good service just to make a living. It was very degrading on a daily basis.

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Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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