#MeToo. Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry
If only I could tell you how many times I’ve tried to write this piece, or how long I’ve sat here staring at this blank page in front of me. There are so many things I’m eager – yet terrified – to say, but I’m writing this for you just as much as I am for me. So here goes.
When this movement first came to fruition, when all of these celebrities were wearing their pins and holding white roses on red carpets, when my facebook feed was flooded with posts from girls I’ve known my whole life, and some I’d just met, I didn’t think it had anything to do with me.
I haven’t been raped, so it has nothing to do with me, right?
But the more I thought, and the more I learned, and the more I listened, it does have something to do with me.
And it has something to do with all of my female coworkers. And my friends. My classmates, my mother, my little sister. This affects all of us.
Almost two years ago now, I was sexually assaulted and harassed by two of my bosses, and two coworkers.
And not just on one occasion, on many. For months.
At the time, I was working in a restaurant. It was a job I loved to hate, and hated to love, but stayed at for almost a year and a half. I love the hospitality industry, the service industry. What I don’t love is the environment surrounding these industries, and how many people in this line of work get away with whatever they want.
When I first got hired at this restaurant, I was freshly 19. A wise adult in my own eyes, but terribly naive in hindsight. This restaurant started off as my second job on the weekends while I was in school and already working full-time, but quickly became my #1 priority. It was fun, and lucrative. The money was insane for a 19 year old, and I was having such a blast at every shift.
Once the turnover of staff slowed down and we formed our little work family, the real fun began. Tequila shots served in ceramic ramekins became a habit during Friday and Saturday night dinner service. Chef would call us servers in to the kitchen, and always pour shots for the ladies first. We would “Cheers!” him and the cooks, and he and the rest of the line would watch as we excitedly threw back our shots and continued polishing the silver or bussing tables. It was pure fun, celebrating the successful and busy dinner services, applauding our hard work.
Then round 2 would come. “Cheers!”. Salt. Shot. Lime.
It felt like bonding, like our work family was growing closer, like I could trust these people.
(But as fun as it was, looking back, I can feel all of the eyes in the kitchen on us, on me. The cooks were fascinated by these “beautiful gringas” who could shoot tequila and not wince.)
Weeks passed by, and we developed a routine. Once the side work was done, we all filed into our cars, quickly changed in the backseat, and headed to a favorite bar downtown. Of course, my friend and I were excited that we “knew people” that could get us into the bar underage, and we proudly walked in behind them, making friends with the bouncers and bartenders.
Soon, this ritual went from innocent fun, to predatory. We just didn’t see it.
One Saturday, my friends and I walked into this bar, and drinks were immediately bought for us. Chef made sure I always had a full drink in my hand. Our Manager vigilantly ordered refills for the other servers.
We drank, we danced, we laughed, we drank some more.
I was having the time of my life with some of my favorite, and most trusted people.
But then, in the middle of the dancefloor, Chef came up behind me.
He grabbed onto both of my hips and held my body against his, grinding on me and kissing my neck.
Shocked and confused, I politely but strongly pulled away. I moved to the other side of the group and let my back face the wall. He kept his eyes on me, smiling, determined.
The night progressed, and Chef dutifully followed me around the club, continuing to try to dance with me despite my clear and persistent uninterest.
Our drinks were refilled, his lustful stares were ignored.
But towards the end of the night was when he saw his chance, I guess.
Our group was in the back of the bar – me and 3 other servers, a few bartenders, Chef, our Manager and his girlfriend.
He falls onto me, pinning me down into a chair in the corner.
Immediately his lips are on mine, strongly kissing me though I did not reciprocate. The shock of this mans, my boss’s, entire weight on top of me made me freeze.
He continued to kiss me, grope me, whisper in my ear that he’s been, “waiting for this.”
I thought of his wife, his young daughter.
I thought of all of the shots we took in the kitchen, all of the drinks we had here at the bar. And I was drunk. Very drunk.
But no amount of alcohol in my system could make me forget the fear and anger I felt while I pushed him off of me. Both hands on his chest I pushed and shoved and squirmed, but my efforts failed. His entire weight had me pinned down, and he wasn’t budging.
It wasn’t until my managers girlfriend ripped him off of me that I got away. She hurried me to the bathroom, but I remember seeing Chef, our Manager, and a male server all standing around the chair where I just was, laughing, smiling, high-fiving.
Upon leaving the bathroom, Chef is by my side once again. I’m headed towards the exit when my best friend, the hostess, turns to Chef and says, “Don’t you dare touch her again. Stay away from her.” I’ve never seen such anger on his face.
In the weeks following this incident, I was shunned by Chef and the rest of the kitchen.
I wasn’t allowed to go into the kitchen to run the food for my tables, or check orders, or grab glass-racks. I was yelled at, laughed at, stared at. My manager laughed off the situation, and told me to get over it, and, “You should just kiss him who cares.”
It became a running joke in the restaurant. People laughed about Chef’s impulsivity, and how I rejected him. Each time we went out after that, “Oh Laney, I think Chef is on his way! Get it girl!” Heckling. Teasing. I stopped going out if I knew there was any chance that he would be there.
Often, my friend and I relied on one of the male servers to drive us home at the end of the night. He was sober – he couldn’t drink for health reasons – so we knew that he could get us home safely.
One Sunday morning, after driving us home the night before, he said to me, “Hey, you know you’re a pretty shitty kisser, right?”
“Wait, what? How would you know?”
“I kissed you last night in my car, remember? Oh… maybe you don’t, you were pretty fucked up.”
I had no memory of him kissing me, but knowing that he was fully sober, recognized that I was drunk, and still kissed me anyway made me sick. I was intoxicated, to the point of not having memories of that night, and he still chose to make advances on me.
After that, our weekend rituals stopped. Chef was no longer a threat – he had given up on me – but now this server was.
I stopped putting myself in any situation where I was intoxicated around these people.
But the sexual harassment didn’t stop there.
My manager took over.
Grabbing my ass each time he passed by me in the dining room, grabbing hold of my hips and thrusting against me each time he walked behind me behind the service bar.
I remember I was cleaning one of the wine fridges, and he walks by to say, “Ah what a pretty sight that is, you on your knees.”
He would constantly brush my hair out of my face, tell me to loosen another button on my top to make more tips. Despite him having a girlfriend, he told me constantly that he would “get his chance with me one night,” and that me, him, and another bartender would end up having a threesome if he had his way.
No amount of “No” meant anything.
The utter lack of professionalism in my workplace was appalling, but what was worse, was knowing that each shift, I would be subjected to some kind of harassment. I consistently told my manager that his behavior was not okay, to stop touching me. I did not laugh when he cracked sexual jokes, I did not brush it off when he grabbed my butt or held his hand on my waist. But it continued.
The pizza chef harassed me as well. We started off as friends, we’d chat during family meal or during dinner service. We’d hug goodbye after each shift, I thought it was innocent. And it was, until he started holding these hugs longer and longer. Until he started holding me and hugging me and walking us into our coat closet, shutting off the lights, and not letting me go. Until he waited outside next to my car after dinner shifts, until he wrote “I love you baby” in sharpie on my car window.
I told my Manager about it, and he laughed it off, again.
Why didn’t I quit? Why didn’t I say NO more? Why didn’t I report them?
These men were my bosses. My coworkers. It was relentless, and it came from every angle. There was no one that I could tell that could put a stop to it. If I quit, it felt like getting belittled out of a job. I’m putting myself through school, I needed that money.
With everything in the media right now, this Ford-Kavanaugh case, I felt now was an appropriate time to share this story.
This is something that has affected me greatly, for years. I’m just now realizing the extent of the psychological damage these men gave me. But its something I’m working through every day.
These men took my pride, my power, my confidence. They took advantage of me. I was young, naive, and having a blast at my job. They were grown. They knew better. Yet still acted this way.
I personally know 5+ women who have been raped. And I know that every woman I know has been harassed at some point in her life.
I know women who have been drugged, assaulted in bars by strangers, assaulted in their homes by boyfriends. I know women who have reported their stories to the police, and some who share their stories just with those closest to them.
Some may think that this movement is suspicious, why is everyone coming out now, where is all of this coming from…
This has always been happening. To everyone. It is violating, it is humiliating.
We’re just choosing to speak out now because we feel safe. I didn’t feel comfortable telling people about this two years ago. Dr. Ford didn’t feel comfortable telling people about her assault 30 years ago.
We’re comfortable today. We’re comfortable because people are listening. They might not all be fighting with us, but at least we are being heard.
Ladies, we cannot stop fighting. No matter the outcome of this vote, we cannot stop speaking out.
You are heard, you are believed. I am with you.