There’s been a lot of talk lately about sexual harassment in the hospitality industry since an article in Fairfax newspapers exposed the dirty underbelly of this industry.
So I recently spoke with Hannah Reilly on the triple j radio show The Hook Up about these disturbing behaviours that are impacting many young people working in hospitality.
Have a listen to this interview by playing the audio or reading the transcript below.
Transcript of audio
Hannah: We all have that one friend who’s constantly falling in love with baristas or bartenders or other people in the hospitality industry who are paid to be nice to them. And that’s why working in hospitality, the lines between sex and professionalism get so heavily blurred, on the podcast we are talking about sex and hospitality. Because, it’s a real Catch-22. It can often be a great place to meet people or pick up, but it also opens you to so much sexual harassment. And we found out on the show a lot of that harassment is coming from a very surprising group that you wouldn’t expect.
Joining us on the podcast is Clinton Power, who is a psychotherapist. Clinton, thanks for coming back on the show.
Clinton: Great to be back, Hannah.
Hannah: So why do you think we so easily forget that people in the service industry are paid to be nice to us?
Clinton: I think it’s so easy for boundaries to get blurry in this industry, because they are being nice to us. They’re being friendly. It’s customer service related. It’s all part of the job, you know, to give the customer a great experience, whether you’re in a bar or a café. But I think the customers sometimes lose the … well, they forget that people are doing their job.
Hannah: So, Clinton, what do you think the ethics are around stuff like this, with picking up someone who is a customer or vice versa?
Clinton: Well, it’s a really tricky area. I think it’s unethical if you’re … it’s your job. That’s part of your … this is part of what you need to be doing in your job, is to provide a service to your customers. To then start to move into the personal realm is really problematic. And I think one of the major issues here is alcohol. Because in the hospitality industry we have so much alcohol, and then drug use sometimes as well in some of these venues.
Hannah: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. We’ve heard from you in the text line. I used to work as a waitress in a café, and asked out a cute boy once. Five years later we’re married with a baby girl. Another one of you said, I worked at a bookstore, and said yes to a date with a customer. It did not go well. Kind of a perfect contrast there. It is such a gamble to either ask someone out who is working somewhere, or asking out a customer. Because if it goes badly you could maybe never go to your favourite café again, or you could get fired.
Clinton: Exactly. And then your customers don’t want to come back as well, and they’re going to feel awkward. You’re going to feel awkward. It’s not a good situation, Hannah.
Hannah: Yeah. Why, do you feel, that some people feel that they have the right to treat people in hospitality as objects, or badly?
Clinton: I really think it comes down to basic respect. And it’s disrespectful to treat people as objects. And I think there’s this culture of kind of getting away with things. It’s certainly … I’ve seen it a lot with men, this culture of, let’s just push the boundaries. Let’s see how far we can go. And once you mix in alcohol and drugs, that gets out of control.
Hannah: We’ve heard from you in the text line. I’m an 18-year-old girl, waitressing at a local pub, and not a day goes by without somebody, generally older men, making some comment about my boobs, or legs, or something. And coming up this show, we are going to be talking about the rife sexual harassment that happens to mostly women working in the hospitality industry. So, do you think people know when they’re being creepy, or do they just not care?
Clinton: I think sometimes people do know. It’s really just bad behaviour. People think they can get away with it. That it doesn’t matter. That there’s going to be no consequences. And they’re in these venues that are often geared for entertainment or pleasure. People are drinking. It’s a really messy situation, and I think it’s great it’s being addressed.
Hannah: We’re talking about sex and the hospitality industry. How the lines between flirting or someone being paid to be nice to you, can turn to sexual harassment at times. And joining me is Clinton Power, who is a psychotherapist. I want to talk a little bit about the unsuccessful world of crushes, when it comes to hospitality between someone serving and a customer. Why do you think we develop crushes on baristas and bartenders?
Clinton: For a lot of people, they see them regularly. If you’re getting your coffee at the same place every morning, you start to develop a relationship with someone, even if it’s just friendly. I think there’s that association between … they’re giving you a little bit of joy. They’re giving you your hit of coffee, or your beer at the end of the day. Sometimes people are lonely, so they don’t have a lot of contact. And so you can start to think that you have a relationship there, where you may read into it more than actually …
Hannah: You should.
Hannah: Alex, thanks for calling us. Your boyfriend used to be a bartender. What used to happen with him?
Alex: Essentially … this is obviously before I was in the picture.
Hannah: Of course.
Alex: Basically he would tell me stories, and I used to love hearing his bartending stories. Obviously, he would use the whole, I’m a bartender. I can do fancy things, drinks, to pick up girls. But what he said was most interesting, was that it was always older women. Like, much older women. Maybe not out on him, but it could just be like a bunch of moms who have gone out for fun. And it seemed to be like it was always them who developed those kind of crushes, a lot more than younger women.
Alex: It was something that he … I mean, not to be gross, but he did sleep with a mom, and he said that …
Hannah: There’s nothing wrong with sleeping with a mom!
Alex: I know. No. It’s just, that age difference. I know he …
Hannah: Right, right.
Alex: He references this girl as gross. No offense to any moms out there. I do apologise. But he woke up the next morning, and he just felt really guilty. He was like, that’s someone’s parent. And it was uncomfortable for him, wake up as a 22-year-old … and obviously it was consenting. It was a completely consensual relation that happened. But he said he just remembered he woke up and felt weird, because it was. It was like, normally he picks up younger women, but there just seemed to be this trend of like 45 to 50-year-old women, would really get off on it.
Hannah: Maybe it’s because they’re older and more confident. And able just to be like, hey, pretty boy.
Alex: Yeah! I mean, hell, yeah. If I was 45, and still rocking that hot bod, I’ll be all over it like white on rice.
Hannah: Well, Alex, thanks so much for calling us. Really appreciate it.
Alex: Thanks so much. Have a good night.
Hannah: You want to Hook Up with Hannah Reilly on triple J. We’re talking about sex in the service industry. How lines can get a little bit blurry when it comes to flirtations between someone working and a customer. Jack, thanks for calling us. You’ve got a crush on a girl at the gym at the moment.
Jack: Hey, Hannah. Yeah, 110 percent. So, since I’ve started working out there … since I’ve changed job I work out in the morning now. It’s been a couple of months, and she’s there every day. My qualm is, I want to say … we exchange words like hello and are you finished with that? But that’s about it basically.
Hannah: True romance.
Jack: Yeah. I know. I know. It must be love. And I want to say something more, like would you like to have a shake together, or a this. that or the other?
Jack: I know, it’s lame. Like I said, I see her every single morning, and if things get a bit funny or if she responds weird, I’m going to see her every single morning. You know what I mean? It’s like, I don’t want to say anything for fear of having to bump into her every single morning. And I also think she works there, because her name’s on the board, but I never … like, her face is on the board, but I’ve just never read what it actually is.
Hannah: Clinton, any tips?
Clinton: Yeah. This is the downside, Hannah, isn’t it? Because it is all great when the relationship is working, but when it goes wrong and you’ve got to still turn up to the gym every day and see that person …
Jack: That’s it, man.
Clinton: You’re going to have to change gyms.
Jack: That’s what I don’t want to do, because this is a cheap one, and it’s the closest. It’s like, one of us would have to change, and I …
Hannah: It’s not going to be her.
Jack: God forbid, it’s not going to be me either. So, I think…
Hannah: Well, I don’t know, Jack. It’s hard. It’s hard. I think …
Jack: I know.
Hannah: … I don’t know. I can’t speak for her and how she’s going to react, but I think you’ve got to tread incredibly carefully. Because you’ve got to think, if she works there, she might be being approached by guys all the time. And she might be absolutely sick of it. She just goes there to earn her money, do her job.
Jack: That’s it.
Hannah: And you don’t want to be the weird guy at the gym who …
Jack: That’s it.
Hannah: … is asking her out.
Jack: I know. Yeah. You hear some of these stories, like, oh, there are so many creeps at the gym. I don’t want to be that man. I don’t want to be that person. So you said, tread carefully. I just don’t think I’m going to tread at all. I think I’m just going to …
Hannah: Oh, but that also makes me a bit sad, because it’s like a potential romance that could be happening. But it sounds like, if you’re making this call and having this thought process, it doesn’t seem to me like you’re a creep. If you’re already thinking about it, then it sounds like you’re a nice guy.
Jack: Oh, thank you. You’re far too kind. You’re far too kind. No, I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually. It’s just a matter of time. I’ll feel it out.
Hannah: Good luck with it, Jack. Let us know how you go, either way.
Jack: I’ll have to. Yeah. Thank you.
Hannah: Clinton, you’ve actually had clients fall for people in the service industry. How did that go?
Clinton: It often doesn’t turn out well. And it comes back to this point of, sometimes people are lonely. When they have that point of contact and they’re seeing this person on a regular basis, they can start to read more into the relationship than actually exists. But let’s take the example of your barista. You might feel special for that two or three minutes you chat in the morning, but you could remember, they’re serving hundreds of coffees a day and having the same conversations over and over again. And it may be a case of you’re actually not that special.
Hannah: So what happened with your client?
Clinton: Well, unfortunately one of my clients gave their number to a barista, and they never got the call, so they had to change coffee shops. He couldn’t face going back to the same coffee shop.
Hannah: And did they find it kind of damaging for their ego? Because, it’s a big move to put yourself out there like that.
Clinton: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And hurt feelings, and obviously the excitement of hoping you’re going to get the call. But when that call doesn’t come, it’s a massive blow to the ego.
Hannah: What are the physical cues that we should be looking out for? Like, why are we so bad at discerning whether we should go for it or not?
Clinton: It is difficult, because as you’ve mentioned, people … part of their job, they’re paid to be friendly, to be personable, to really connect with you. Some of the cues you want to look out for, if you’ve got really good eye contact. That can often be one that gives it away, if you’re getting a lot of eye contact. Maybe they’re lingering to talk to you for a long period of time. They keep coming back to you. They can be indicators, but it can be really hard to discern, because that’s part of the job.
Hannah: We’ve heard from you in the text line: “I work at a café and a guy who is a regular customer found me on social media and we started chatting. We eventually slept together and then it got weird. And now he or his father don’t come anymore, because it’s awkward.” I heard from another one of you, “I’m a bartender in Weraby. I was once offered a blowjob in exchange for a Raspberry Cruiser. I told them no politely, and that I had a girlfriend and would also lose my job. That is from Daniel.” Also, another one, he says, “I’m a barista, currently bawling my eyes out over a boy that I picked up at work and dated for three months, like something out of the Notebook. Then it ended. But he still comes in each day, and it kills me.” Oh, that sucks.
This is one of the risks that happens in these kinds of situations. We’re talking about sex and hospitality on the show tonight, and the line that can often get blurred between someone who’s being paid to be nice to you, and you may be thinking that they’re genuinely interested. Lucas, thanks for calling us. What happened to you?
Lucas: Yeah. There’s a bit of a curly one. I play the drums in local pubs around town every weekend. ] It’s a little bit weird, but you get used to it. One night I was packing up after three hours of playing Darrell Braithwaite.
Hannah: That’s harassment enough.
Lucas: Oh, my, tell me about it. Anyway, I put my base drum away, and then I get accosted from behind and this lady poked me in my butt that hard that it penetrated. I had to physically remove my underpants from inside me.
Hannah: Oh, my God, Lucas. That’s awful. You poor thing.
Lucas: Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing. The hard part for me is … I don’t drink. I choose not to drink, because I don’t like the way I am when I drink. And this is bad, I have a little bit of issues of tolerance around people who are that obnoxious and drunk. And I was angry, and I had to try to keep that inside. And to be honest, I felt like a little boy. I felt like Brian. I was pissed off about it.
Hannah: Oh, no.
Lucas: It’s like, I’m 45, this is shit, and then I caught the finger in the bum.
Hannah: We’re hearing a lot of terrible behaviour from older ladies tonight. What’s going on, ladies?
Lucas: It happens. Look, I play go and try to spin around and sit on my lap, and knocked over the whole table. It doesn’t matter if you look like two [two bags 00:14:18] of the [inaudible 00:14:18] I don’t know what it is, but it happens almost … at least four nights a week.
Hannah: Oh, Lucas, sorry to hear that. Thanks for giving us a call though. Your listening to the Hook Up with Hannah Reilly on triple j. In a national survey by the union United Voice they found that 89 percent of hospitality workers had experienced sexual harassment at work. Earlier I spoke to Ranyah, who worked as a promo girl and knows first hand the perils of working in hospitality, and being paid to be nice to people, and how that makes them feel that they can treat you however they want.
Ranyah: I think, especially being a younger female … I think also though it happens to younger males, who look a bit defenseless. So you’re there, a bit as a target. You stand out for people who want conversation, and people think that you’re going to please them, no matter what. With your type of work, I guess, it’s for friendly interaction. So, people think they’ll get that, even if they’re not quite friendly back. I did have experiences where I had to get people removed from stores, because I didn’t give them the attention they wanted, and they would get quite aggressive. I had a drunk male once threaten to beat me up, because I was setting my stand up, and didn’t have time to chat to him. I had a man once tell me that if I was a bit older that he would go for me, but then turns around and told me that if I lost weight he was sure that boys would love me more.
Hannah: Oh, my God! Yeah, I feel like every woman who’s worked in hospitality has a story like this. Having worked in hospitality myself, it feels there’s an assumption as a girl that you’re there to serve the needs of the customer, no matter what they are. Even if they’re, to be flirted with.
Ranyah: Yeah. Definitely. You’re not just a person, once you’ve got a brand on you. You become just part of a company, and they think that that company wants to please the customer, no matter what. But that’s nothing always the case.
Hannah: And how did management look after you?
Ranyah: Well, I had a boss who had become our boss through working up in the company, so she had experienced a lot of the same stuff. She was very willing to listen. But I guess they were more towards the side of, don’t call it conflict, because it would just go down badly for the company. But if you do feel unsafe to always contact other staff in the store. On one shift you could be called fat by one man, and have someone else compliment your smile in a really polite way. It was always unpredictable, unfortunately.
Hannah: I’m here with Clinton Power who is a psychotherapist. Clinton, men often think verbal comments about the way that someone looks, that’s in what they think is a positive light, is a compliment. Is it?
Clinton: Absolutely not. It’s totally inappropriate. I mean, you don’t go to work and start making verbal comments about your colleague who works at the desk next to you. So why should it be any different in a bar or a café?
Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. Jess, thanks so much for calling us. You’ve worked in hospitality?
Jess: Yeah, I have.
Hannah: And what have been your experiences?
Jess: I’ve worked in hospitality for almost four years, I think, while I was doing uni. The harassment that I saw could be anything from following girls around the bar, to taking pictures of girls when they didn’t want their pictures taken. Then sometimes it got physical too, which wasn’t great.
Hannah: And did you find that it’s all sort of brushed off as part of the job?
Jess: Oh, yeah. Definitely. It’s sort of expected as part of the culture that you laugh it off, and you go on with your night. And then you come back, and experience the same thing tomorrow.
Hannah: How was that shift after shift? Did it take a toll on you?
Jess: Yeah, it was really degrading. And I didn’t realize how grading it was until I moved into retail, and it wasn’t there as much. And I was like, wow, this is something that I was just taking on night after night, and it’s off my shoulders now.
Hannah: And did you ever complain to management, or anything, about it?
Jess: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. It’s hard to complain about it. It wasn’t necessarily that you went off, and you were like, hey, I’m being sexually harassed. It was sort of like, maybe you’ve seen something, or they’d seen something. But there wasn’t a massive support network there. Like it was said earlier, there was a lot of, don’t cause trouble, where you don’t need to cause trouble.
Hannah: Yeah. That’s a really interesting point. We are told so often to not make a fuss, or just get over it. Or that we’re being too sensitive. Clinton, have you got any advice for someone that this might be happening to? Like, when should you say something and stand up?
Clinton: Okay, I think this is a systemic problem, because the bosses and managers, they need to set things up right from the beginning. And it sounds like a lot of bosses and managers just reacting to these kind of crises. But I think, if there’s anything going on that you’re uncomfortable about, that doesn’t feel right, that is upsetting you … first of all, you’ve got to set a boundary with the person. Tell them you want them to stop. And let them know, if they don’t stop, what is the consequence. You’re going to go to the boss, you’re going to talk to the manager. Then, if they don’t stop, you need to carry through. Even if your boss or manager is not being responsive, you can still go to the Human Rights Commission and make a complaint there as well.
So there are always places you can go. Everyone has the right to be respected in their workplace.
Hannah: Jess, thanks very much for calling us.
Hannah: It’s interesting though, because I can understand why some people might not complain, because we’ve heard stories of women being fired or just being moved or demoted when they’ve made a complaint about sexual harassment at work. So it can be really, really difficult. Trent, thanks for calling us. What happened to you?
Trent: Yeah, no problem. I was 15 at the time, working at an RSO. I was a glassy there. And I had to go to a lady, probably in her fifties, mid-fifty. And she grabbed me underneath, between my balls and my buttocks …
Trent: … and put her finger in my bum.
Hannah: Oh, Trent, I’m so sorry to hear that. That must have been really scary.
Trent: Oh, it was so scary. And I had glasses all in my right arm, and I dropped them, because it was such a shock.
Hannah: Oh, you poor thing. Did you tell anyone about it?
Trent: I told a work colleague, but he sort of just laughed it off, because I thought, what if … you know?
Hannah: I’ve actually got a text that says, as a bartender from a bar by a major pub, I can say definitely, older women are guilty of sexual harassing the male glassies as opposed to old men on the female bartenders. So Trent, it doesn’t seem like you’re alone in this experience. Really sorry to hear that.
Trent: Oh, thank you.
Clinton: Yeah. In any other setting that would be sexual assault.
Hannah: Well, it still is.
Clinton: If you walked up to someone in the street and did that …
Hannah: It’s still a sexual assault.
Clinton: Yes, it is.
Hannah: So Trent, that’s awful. Sorry to hear that.
Hannah: And I’ve also heard from you on the text line, I’m an Uber driver, and I’ve had girls sexually harass me. I also constantly have older women grab my facial hair. Like, come on, it’s attached to my goddamn face. A 100 percent right though, people taking it the wrong way, because you are paid, and have to be nice to them as well. What’s a response that you could give if someone is making you feel uncomfortable at work, Clinton?
Clinton: I think, you need to be really clear with them, and you just have to say, look, this is not appropriate. I want you to stop. And if you don’t stop, this is going to be the consequence. You have to be really clear with your customers and set a boundary. Otherwise, they don’t know, if you don’t set that boundary. But then you have to carry through. You have to make that complaint to your boss or your manager. That’s really important. And bosses and managers need to step up. They have to really lift the industry, because I think what’s been revealed here is, this is endemic in the industry, and it’s a really sad state of affairs.
Hannah: Yeah. There’s a really interesting article that you can check out, I believe, on The Age, about a couple of different steps that are going on with the industry and sexual harassment. Josh, thanks for calling us. You had something happen to you tonight?
Josh: Oh, hey. Yeah. I had a woman sneak behind the bar where I work and starts begging me to kiss her. And eventually grabbing me and kissing me.
Hannah: Oh, Josh! So, what did you do?
Josh: I just screamed quite a lot. And then got serious with her, and be like, look, love, this is not okay. I know you know people that I know, but it’s not a joke, when I’m saying no, ain’t great.
Hannah: Oh, that’s awful. And is this the first time that’s happened to you?
Josh: No. It happens quite a bit, especially with the older women.
Hannah: Why …?
Josh: Because when they have ] … I don’t … because they’re usually just, in their words, very unsatisfied. They haven’t been getting anything in a while, so the young bartender’s just a bit of fun.
Josh: Yeah. That’s usually the case.
Hannah: This is so …
Josh: It’s just a joke.
Hannah: This is so interesting to hear this, as a woman hearing from guys who are being sexually objectified and harassed at work. I had no idea this was going on!
Josh: Yeah, it was horrifying. It’s like, if this situation were reversed, if this was a 50-year-old man, literally forcing kisses on a 23-year-old bar girl, that would not be okay at all.
Hannah: Did you tell anyone at work about it?
Josh: Now, one of my colleagues saw it. He was like, oh, sorry I didn’t have your back, man, but I didn’t know what to do.
Hannah: Wow. And did you talk to a manager or anything about it? Make a formal complaint?
Josh: I am the manager.
Hannah: Oh. So what happens from there? Is there anything that …?
Josh: Yeah, that’s the kind of thing. I don’t know. It’s one of my customers, and I know who she is, so what do I do? I don’t want to get her kicked out, but I don’t want her to keep doing this.
Hannah: Well, surely you can put a ban on her, or something. Like, tell her not to come back. Clinton, what should he do?
Clinton: Yeah. Look, I think there’s certainly a case for ejecting customers that show that kind of behaviour. It’s totally uncalled for. It’s unprofessional. I don’t know. If women think they can get away with it, because they’re doing it to a man … there’s no reason why it should be any different.
Hannah: And also, I guess, if you’re confused about whether you have the right to eject her, or tell her not to come back … Like you were saying, if the roles were reversed, no one would have any problem never letting this person back in the bar.
Josh: Yeah. It’d be quite scary.
Hannah: Yeah. Totally. Josh, sorry to hear that happened to you, mate. But thanks for calling.
Hannah: Hook Up with Hannah Reilly on triple j. Unfortunately, we’ve got to move on. Clinton Power, thank you so much for joining us. I really, really appreciate it.
Clinton: My pleasure.
Have you been sexually harassed in your workplace?
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