I had my first serving job at the age of 18. I had just started my first year of university and needed the money. While getting ready for my interview, I found myself choosing a low-cut top and tight fitting pants. I was hired on the spot.
Serving is among the most common jobs for young people looking to make decent money. Despite the almost minimum wage salary, the tips provide employees with take-home cash after each shift.
In October, the Bier Markt restaurants introduced a new dress code for their female servers. It required female servers to wear revealing, body-hugging polyester dresses.
The new mandate posed a few challenges and questions. Does an employer have the right to make these changes to the dress code? Do servers have to follow it? And most importantly, does this infringe on their rights?
According to employment lawyer, Barbara Green, the revealing ensemble is both humiliating and a violation of the Ontario Human Rights code.
Two former servers filed complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
While many female servers spoke up and even quit over the issue, others abided by the new rules and showed up for their usual shifts. It seemed to come down to preference, and certainly tolerance.
But with the outrage sparked by the change, it wasn’t long before Bier Markt, owned by Cara, cancelled the uniform policy. Despite the short length of time before this happened, the damage had been done.
Restaurants like Hooters and The Tilted Kilt are well known for their uniforms, or lack thereof. But what happens when you apply for a job at a normal chain restaurant, and a few months into your time there, you’re asked to wear less?
As a former server, I know all too well the expectations of appearance and image upkeep. But in dealing with young people who need the money, it becomes easier for employers to heighten these expectations and, in some cases, exploit the staff.
For some servers, perhaps the payout is worth it, but for others, they’re forced to choose between their income and their level of self-respect.
Until restaurants focus less on the sexualization of female bodies and more on creating an equal and comfortable work environment, servers will always be at risk.
While young people need the money, these recurring issues might drive the population of young women looking to be in the hospitality industry out of the career pool entirely.