Our advice columnist, Nebbie, is back! this month she tackles some sticky situations service industry workers may find themselves in, and she’s not talking about getting drunk at the bar after your shift and forgetting to do your closing sidework. oh come on, we know you all do it.
I’m a woman who works as a bartender and a server in Portland, and I really like my job. I get to connect with people from all over the world. The patrons who eat at my workplace are overall reasonable with their compensation. While I feel my situation is positive, especially compared to some that I have heard of, there are some things that make my job feel harder in ways I have a difficult time putting my finger on.
One of the things that bothers me the most are interactions that happen because of my tattoos. I have tattoos on my arms, so they are visible to customers. Some who sit at my tables will ask me about my tattoos. I some of those questions are fine, but I’m tired of being expected to answer them, since some of those questions feel personal, and I have to stop to explain during dinner rush. Some patrons, mostly older men, will physically grab my arms and pull me to them so they can see my tattoos. I have had people go so far as to nearly take off a piece of my clothing so they could better see the work on my body.
Sometimes the difference between getting a great tip or any tip at all, is being likable. I don’t want to make my patrons uncomfortable by telling them I don’t like what their actions. I want to talk to my manager about it, but I’ve casually mentioned it before, and she told me that a server who gets upset about something like should probably get out of the service industry. She has no problem firing people for any reason and I’ve seen it happen in the past. I don’t want to seem ‘difficult’ for speaking up. The thing is though, that I am tired of compromising my comfort level & integrity and so others can be blissfully ignorant, and I don’t know how much longer I can do this. How do you think I should handle my situation?
Thanks for your help,
Thank you so much for writing to me with your concerns. There is a high concentration of service industry workers in this town, who are on your side. I have talked to a couple women and a few men who either work in the service industry, or just exist in the world with visible tattoos, and they have had similar experiences, so please know that you are not alone!
Working in restaurants and bars in America we are beholden to many bosses. The owner of the establishment, the manager, and the general public. While one signs the paychecks, the other decides if we will actually get paid. If money talks, who then is your real boss? Unless your work in a unionized restaurant (unicorn-like in it’s mythicality), the nature of your employment is “at-will.” This means you can be fired at any time, for any reason. This adds even more instability to an already unstable working situation.
Your feelings about your treatment are valid. Just because you work in a public environment does not then make your body public domain. I don’t know what it is about visible tattoos that makes people think that a person with ink in their skin is a walking art gallery. It might sound kind of crazy and extreme, but anyone who is grabbing you without your permission is actually assaulting you, and has no legal right to treat you this way. Anyone who tries to make you feel otherwise is an asshat who clearly has never worked with the public.
As far as I see it, you have a few options for how you decide you might want to handle this. A few of these options have more risk than others, and some might not be good ideas at all, but it is always good to have thought through everything with relative thoroughness.
1) You can continue to put up with this sort of thing when it happens, doing nothing.
2) You can continue to put up with this sort of thing when it happens, repeating stock answers and building verbal deflection mechanisms.
3) You can continue to put up with this sort of thing when it happens, repeating stock answers and building up verbal deflection mechanisms until one day you mentally, physically, and emotionally cannot take any more bullshit and die on the inside; rendering you the true soul-less food serving robot they thought you to be all along.
4) You continue to put up with this sort of thing when it happens, repeating stock answers and building verbal deflection mechanisms until one day you mentally, physically, and emotionally cannot take any more bullshit and snap like a brittle twig under the well-heeled sole of the figurative embodiment of free market capitalism. On that day, you finally lose it in front of a party of five up visiting from new jersey for the weekend. Hulk-like, your green hued rage grows to an uncontrollable amount and you find yourself lifting the table on which all of their drinks and food lay, placed in an artisanal manner and instagram worthy, onto their bourgeois, fat, and inexplicably rich laps. (Seriously, what the fuck do all you people do for a living?!) You then walk out the door, with all the money in your apron (1/6 of it is actually yours) cooly and calmly, never looking back. You keep going until you reach the west coast, or the money runs out.
5) Swallow your nerves, and try talking to your manager. She might have some good tips, or actually commiserate with you about how frustrating the public’s reaction to visible tattoos can be sometimes. Maybe she will have your back from now on. Surprise! She isn’t awful, she is just stressed because she is overworked, underpaid and cannot find help she thinks is good enough. you took a leap of faith, and she is now looking to you in times of stress. You now work as a stronger team, life is beautiful.
6) Swallow your nerves and try talking to your manager, despite what she said to you in passing. Before you do, drop your resume off at a few places around town you heard might be hiring, just to be on the safe side. If, when you talk to her, she does not see your side of things, and begins to suspiciously regard you as difficult, or perceptibly cuts your shifts the following weeks, perhaps it is best you move on, and try to find work elsewhere.
7) Work to raise the minimum wage for service workers in the city of Portland to a living wage, and hold the restaurant owners of this town accountable. That way, when some entitled middle-aged penis of a person decides to lord your tip compensation over you, you can tell him to kindly fuck the hell off, because you are not beholden to his entitled shit behavior and drunken whims.
Working in restaurants can be a complicated endeavor. As long as at-will employment exists, restaurant workers remain without unions, and the Portland city council has the interests of the owners, not workers, at heart, things won’t change any time soon. Have heart, though. Just because things might suck now, does not mean they always have to.
Do you have gripes? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org