Two women in hospitality

Women in hospitality deserve better than the sexist treatment we’re getting this Christmas

Sorry but I just don’t get paid enough for this

As a front of house member in a busy London pub, the last few months of my experience in hospitality has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. I’m sure many fellow workers feel the same, what with the furloughed lockdowns, tiers switching up every week and completely nonsensical rules about substantial meals.

Not only have pubs, bars and clubs been part of the hardest hit industry, but women in hospitality have had to deal with too much. Between sexist remarks from customers, higher expectations of ‘smiling more’ and a whole lot of mansplaining, I’m just about sick and tired of a job that I used to love so much.

It’s 2020 and honestly, I want to know when are things going to change for women in hospitality?

My hatred for a job I previously loved started after a particularly demeaning encounter I had this Christmas period with some *three points for guessing*  white middle-aged men. Our favourite kind! With what started as some men having a paddy that they couldn’t order more pints without getting food ended as a deliberate sexist ploy to make me bend over for them, it’s safe to say that I left work that day having lost my faith in people.

Of course, my team and managers were all incredible in supporting me past it, but since then I seem to notice even the tiniest struggles that women in hospitality have to put up with on a daily basis, that frankly, male employees just don’t.

In a typical argument with guests about company policy, which is happening a lot currently (to all you customers we hate the substantial meal rule as much as you do), women are shouted at while men are spoken to calmly and respectfully. The rules are understood perfectly as soon as a man explains them, but for some reason are completely unclear and easy to bend when a woman is dealing with it. The worst part is that groups of both male and female customers are just as guilty as solely male groups.

And I don’t get paid enough to have to go through it every single shift

I get home, usually after an hour-long close that ends pretty happily with my colleagues, and I’ve already forgotten every single sexist thing that happened to me that day. When I realised this and started recounting the shift’s events one day, I was absolutely shocked at how much I get hurt and then brush it aside in order to get on with my work.

Once, I even laughed over the fact a man had told me that I personally was starving children in Africa by forcing people to buy food with their drinks that won’t get eaten, which made me want to cry at the time but soon just became another joke between friends. Imagine being able to set aside those kinds of comments within hours, call it ‘all just part of the job’ and then be put through the exact same shit the next day. Well, we don’t need to imagine it – we live it. And we do not get half of the credit we deserve for doing it.

I spoke to some other women who work in the sector about their experiences with working over Christmas, and the general consensus is a large sense of frustration that people don’t realise how difficult it is to do what we do. “Nobody thinks about or understands what a woman has to go through on-shift,” one colleague told me, while another highlighted the things you have to think about as a female worker. “Part of the service cycle is to make small talk with customers, and that’s more likely to get you tips, but with that friendliness, you also risk coming across as an easy target.”

The biggest frustration, though, is getting comments that a male employee could never even dream of receiving. “When I’m serving a group of older men they can be condescending, saying things like ‘there’s a good little girl’ and making flirty jokes that you can overhear when you walk away,” a friend admitted. “And when I ask people to leave at the end of the night they ignore me, but when the boys ask they start moving automatically.”

Some of us are students, balancing a 30 hour work week with five uni assignments that are due imminently. Some of us work unbearable amounts of overtime just to afford rent. Some of us have been promised promotions to make us stay, only for a £1 raise per hour and triple our responsibilities.

So why don’t I leave? Because I still have hope that someday I can enjoy the excitement of speaking to new people and fast-paced work again. I love this industry, the people that I meet and the experiences that I have, but times like these have really made me realise how strong my female colleagues are for dealing with the disadvantages of the job.

In particular, this Christmas period has been an extremely challenging time for hospitality. From the rule of six and ban of indoor-mixing to the substantial meal madness and now an abrupt Tier 4 in London, I can imagine a lot of pubs and restaurants are feeling like they’re playing egg on the trampoline and no one is stopping jumping around them.

I am immensely proud of my team for sticking together and getting through each week, where yet again the rules change 20 times, and some of the stories of guest treatment from both male and female colleagues have been shocking. We’ve had more bad reviews, arguments and disrespect this Christmas than I’ve ever experienced before in this industry, which, if anything, just shows how far people are willing to blame others – innocent people who are literally just trying to do their jobs – for something which is not our fault and is completely out of our control.

As well as being the government’s scapegoat every time there is a surge in cases, the last thing we need is to be made to feel like nothing.

Women in Hospitality

Women in hospitality – I salute you. With all these extra worries and problems that workers are having to go through in general right now, it’s easy to forget the daily sexism that we encounter, so for that, I admire all of you.