Toronto restaurant chain dress codes need a re-think
I remember leaving the first bar I ever worked at 4am every night with tons of crazy stories. Much to my friends' delight (and my father's horror), these stories mainly revolved around drunk men doing things like carrying me into the men's washroom.
While there was no formal dress code, I was encouraged to trade in my jeans for a pair of short shorts and when I did I saw a raise in tips and an even bigger raise in drunk men's antics.
Recently, the question of whether or not female dress codes are biased and over sexualized has been brought to light, and apparently for good reason. National chains like Jack Astor's, Earls, Joey Restaurants and Cactus Club are facing judgement as more and more female servers are sharing their personal experiences relating to biased uniform standards.
Regardless of their formal uniform policies, it's apparent by walking into almost any restaurant the difference between the male and female uniforms. As a server myself, I have been exposed to these double standards daily and actually feel lucky to now work at a restaurant that doesn't force me to wear heels or an exposing uniform.
Jack Astor's has felt the wrath of this controversy as one server, Akua Agyemfra, made headlines when she shared her experience of being sent home because her hair was in a bun. Within the industry world, Jack Astor's is known to have overly strict uniform policies for their female servers.
One former Jack Astor's employee recalls the endless stories of girls being sent home, whereas she never saw a male server get sent home. "I got written up for having my hair half up because my black elastic was showing. I've also been sent home for minimal chipped nail polish and for not wearing a watch," she said.
She explained how detailed the female uniform requirements are, including wearing a minimum of three accessories, wearing a certain height heel and only being allowed to wear a jacket on the patio if it's under 15 degrees outside. A former male Jack Astor's server said the girls would be freezing on the patio, but complaining to management was pointless.
And while their female co-workers would be freezing, he said the men were fine as their uniform consists of jeans, sneakers and a branded t-shirt.
After working at two different locations for four years, she now works at Moxie's. There, male and female servers generally wear the same uniform, though females wear a skirt in certain sections of the restaurant. She has already had a more positive work experience.
The blatant difference between men and women's uniforms seems to be an ongoing trend throughout these major restaurant chains. At Joey restaurants, men's uniforms consist of black pants and a black button-up shirt, while girls have to follow several rules, including wearing a low-cut, tight dress without nylons.
Men are only allowed to work in certain sections of the restaurant, as the main cliental is men who apparently only want to be served by women.
Madeline, a former server at a Toronto Joey location, shares her experiences with the company, including a girl being told that in order to move to an improved section of the restaurant, she would need to wear more makeup (a line that I've heard too) and noting that the uniform dresses only come is sizes xxs, xs and small.
"In training there was such a huge emphasis on what you look like, how much makeup you wear and of course the heels," Madeline said. "I started getting back pains from working 9.5 hour shifts in heels.
We were allowed to wear flats if need be, however in my eight months working there, I only ever wore flats once because of my arthritis and I felt embarrassed. My managers made me feel guilty for not being 'on brand.'"
In the wake of Women's International Day on March 8, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a policy position paper stating that sexualized dress codes are discriminatory and women shouldn't be expected to dress in short skirts, low-cut tops and high heels.
Earls was the only restaurant to respond to the policy paper, saying in a statement that their female servers would be getting more uniform options to match their own comfort levels.
Companies argue that their policies are versatile because they offer options such as pants for females on request or only suggest, rather than impose, certain regulations. What they are failing to recognize is the treatment these women get if they opt out for the less popular options.
When there are ultimatums imposed by management telling women to show more cleavage and wear more makeup if they want a better section or more shifts, it doesn't matter if the policies are formal or not because if you aren't willing to do it, someone else is.
A former employee at Cactus Club says even though she complained to management about working for nine hours in heels, they told her it was a nonnegotiable policy. Just like the skin-tight uniform dresses they have to wear (that are so tight this server wasn't even able to wear underwear).
Female servers' complaints about the sexualization of uniforms is not a new issue. There are several successful cases that have even been to the human rights tribunal relating to discrimination, but even after those public cases, there has been no solution to this issue. It seems that even when companies formally change their policies to ensure protection from public outcry, the industry is what it is.
And by that I mean with an industry so engrained in sexualizing women and convincing them that cleavage is a way to more money and with a clientele that seems to confirm this, it will take way more than policy changes to even begin to equalize women and men's uniforms in restaurants.
Want to know about your favourite chain restaurant's uniform policies? Here's how it breaks down.
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