UnderCover Waitress: Girls

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


FB Fan Page:

Was contacted a few weeks ago by a woman who wanted to include some of my perceptions in research she is doing about sexism in the restaurant industry. I would have been happy to help her, had she bothered to leave me her email address or some other way to contact her.

But her words got me thinking. Grown women walk into a restaurant, strap on an apron and are suddenly "girls." I remember standing in the dish room speaking to a new kid washing the dishes. He said something about "one of the girls" told him to do a chore. This high school kid was referring to my colleague who is in her fifties and has been waiting tables for about thirty years.

I bristled. I informed the kid -- and yes, he really was a kid -- that she was a grown woman and old enough to be his mother; she was not a girl. He kept his eyes on his work and was suddenly quite busy scrubbing something to sparkling shine. I stared into the side of his head for a moment then exited the dish room.

To this day, I don't know whether he felt above me and was just ignoring me, or whether I freaked him out and he was afraid to look at me. But he didn't last long at the restaurant, and I don't think I ever worked with him again.

Some waitresses do it to ourselves. The very colleague I was referring to will call herself a girl, or ask how many girls are on the floor. Makes it even more awkward when one of the "girls" is a waiter.

But my favorite is when she calls out, "working girl coming through." That's restaurant-speak for "get out of my way." It is the only time that I have heard the term "working girl" mean anything other than prostitute. I quipped one night that is not how we earn tips; not sure if she got the joke.

Language is powerful. The words we choose to express ourselves connote many shades of meaning. Referring to a grown person as a child diminishes her. Referring to grown, black men as "boys" before the Civil Rights Movement diminished them, which was the intention. It may be subtle or glaringly obvious, but it does have an effect.

The office girls of yesterday are the administrative assistants of today. Kelly Girls are now temporary employees. Waitresses and waiters may be servers, but we are not girls.


Please share your thoughts.