“What’s the difference between a bartender and a whore?”
Apparently not much.
Lets talk about decency, and the lack thereof, one deals with in the hospitality industry. I was looking back at my writing this past year, and one episode stood out that missed publishing. The audacious depths of depravity involved in that night still set my nerves on end. This is the story of why I left the restaurant business.
I was working at the Pub that night, and had a rowdy group of 40 something’s. From the off, we had a stellar repertoire; very playful and assertive. I liked it. I had the women flirting and complimenting me and the men puffing up all flattering and grandiose. But towards the end, one of those charmers didn’t just cross a line– he charged it. He stormed the goddamn castle, sowing salt behind him.
After a night of excellent service for well over four hours and particular attention to my many attributes– both physical and intellectual– I was finally being cut (translation: let off work for the night) and cashing everyone out. While working on that, the big, belligerent bull of a lug went for the gold.
“So what’s the difference between a whore and a bartender?” he drunk-whispered as he leaned over me, more than invading my personal space.
Thinking he was starting a tasteless joke, I half laughed while spacing myself back to a polite distance. “I don’t know, what?”
“No, seriously, where is the line drawn? Because I want you to make out with this guy behind us. I wanna fuck his sister, but he’s looking all pathetic and needs a girl. She won’t do anything until he’s good. So you hook up with him and I get his sister.”
You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. The aforementioned Sad Man was indeed looking like a half-drowned puppy swaying on a bar stool. His sister, well past drunk, was my biggest fan in the bunch. While I had a growing suspicion through our time together of an impending threesome proposition– which I typically find flattering or hilarious– this was unexpected.
“That’s not going to happen; here’s your check.” That didn’t satisfy him.
“No seriously, he’s not bad looking. If you’re a little drunk and like nice guys.” His suggestive leer did nothing to improve the ice running through my veins as his determination to disregard personal space actually cornered me.
“I’m sober, and have a boyfriend. No, thank you. Here’s your check.” He really can’t push this any further; there’s no way I’ll have to decline more than twice, right?
It gets better.
“I don’t fucking care about you having a boyfriend or any of that, just do it. He won’t know. I really need to get with this guy’s sister. You’re my last shot,” the Lug said, dangerously unaware of the precarious situation in which he’d placed himself.
I silently handed him his bill, doled out the rest of the checks, and walked to the safety of the kitchen. Quickly. Before the explosive, homicidal rage overcame my desire to evade prison.
I’ve had nights involving sexual harassment many-a-time before; it comes with the territory, as a woman in service. But I generally squash those attempts and shame the perpetrators. Tonight was different: he hadn’t paid me yet. I had rendered services–apparently extensive services, given recent absurdities– and I deserved my pay.
Hold the phone.
How was I any different from a prostitute now? We both perform requested actions and are paid wages on a discretionary, performance-based scale. Now that I think of it, don’t they have a set, pimp-enforced price, rather than hoping to be paid what they deserved? So, in a way–and take this with a biting grain of salt–they are theoretically better-off. (Ok, that’s a thought that is going to fester.)
Well, I hadn’t received my due yet. So I punched a sack of potatoes in the walk-in fridge (to my immediate regret), and steeled myself for round two. I shamefully laughed it off, navigating the group until I got the receipts back. What’s the saying, fool me once? Yep, shame on me.
He tipped me under 10%. In this line of work, in this country, and considering my practiced expertise, this is wholly unacceptable. Especially considering the time I put into them and the horrible trash he’d dragged me through.
The sole redeeming moment: the evident look on my face upon reading his receipt did not go unnoticed. His buddy came over to ask if I had been appropriately taken care of. Out of sheer exhaustion and dejection, I shook my head and squeaked out a quiet, “Well, not exactly, no.”
He took the slips back and asked for my help doing math; the woman supposedly won over by the Lug joined in. Look– I’m no walking calculator myself, so when drunks request assistance in paying me properly, I’ll always be more than happy to help. He said the one sister meant to put 20%, and bumped his own check to 30%. Between the whole lot of them, I think I ended up walking with over $150, for a total of $350 for the night.
I can put up with a ridiculous mountain of shenanigans from customers (and coworkers), but I refuse to provide my industry prowess in an atmosphere where I don’t feel safe. The managers and doormen were appalled that I hadn’t immediately grabbed them, to their credit. And while I might have done so in the past, I had reached a point in life where I won’t work somewhere that allows room for this to slip by unawares. Most other women working there were shocked; they said they had never experienced anything remotely close. However, one of my favorite coworkers was the only one to speak up that she wasn’t surprised, and had been in the same boat many times over the years.
Even so, that was the night that broke this camel’s back; I put in my notice a week later. If I make $350 in one night and am still showing up at home in tears, I’m calling it. As much as I miss making rent in one weekend, the emotional damage really isn’t worth it. I left the industry in favor of committing to a real-world professional (read: office) career move. If I’m going to “whore” myself out– because let’s be honest, a lot of jobs feel like that sometimes– it’s going to meet my standards.
I’m going to be a happy whore.
In a jam for money this fall, I tried rejoining the serving masses at a well-known tapas spot in the U Street area. The hiring manager had boasted two visits from Michelle Obama in as many months, so I looked forward to finally bragging about rubbing elbows with the upper crust to Big Bro up in Philly, where he routinely serves the fabulous and famous. I didn’t have to wait long.
On my third day of training (already convinced I’d made a great mistake, and was planning a graceful exit), the hostess informed my trainer and I that a VIP was assigned to our section for dinner. She didn’t know who it was, but told me “Valerie something” when I asked after the reservation.
“You mean Valerie Jarrett?” She nodded, looking no more enlightened. Everyone else is still oblivious. “Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to the President.” Still nothing. “She’s Obama’s best friend.” A few faces lit up. I instead talked to a manager, who absolutely knew the name.
When a Secret Service agent showed to post up at a table nearby, I kept thinking about how advisors don’t typically go about with escorts. Two young black girls arrived at the table first, but I assumed one was her daughter. It still could just be her. Then my trainer bolted over to me across a packed dining room.
“Please don’t freak out. I know you’re new, and I don’t know if you can keep your cool or not. But Sasha and Malia just sat at our table. Get bread and water and please, please do not embarrass me.”
For a group who didn’t know Valerie Jarrett’s name, they sure make a fuss over the First Daughters. I had to subtly shoo away multiple coworkers who stopped and gaped at the table. One server even nudged me while I was refilling a water glass and not-so-quietly whispered, “Are those the Obama girls?” My face was not pleased. Jarrett did indeed accompany the girls, along with some school friends. My only moment of nervousness was when the girls thought about ordering another soda from me along with their churros, which put me on edge.
I’m sorry, girls, but I wouldn’t want to face your mother’s disapproval. I sort of worship her. You understand.