Occasionally, “breastaurants” — eateries with scantily clad waitresses — make the news, whether it’s the biker-gang brawl at the Twin Peaks in Waco, Texas, earlier this summer, or the racial discrimination suit won by a former Hooters employee in April.
Despite the unfavorable press, restaurants such as Twin Peaks, Spice Rack, Hooters, and Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery appear to be doing well. While casual-dining establishments such as Applebee’s and Olive Garden are faltering, many others have grown by 30% or more in recent years.
But, despite the witty restaurant names and provocative headlines, it’s worth considering how working at one of these establishments would influence your emotional and psychological well-being. What does it feel like to work as a waitress in one of these establishments?
Placed on show
The bulk of breastaurants’ clients (about 75 percent) are men, many of them are in their forties and fifties. In addition, by hiring only female waitstaff, these eateries preserve traditional gender stereotypes. (Female servers account for 72 percent of all servers nationwide.)
In fact, Hooters won this right in a 1997 class-action settlement, citing the Title VII Civil Rights Act’s “bona-fide vocational qualification” as a defense. In essence, they maintained that being female was necessary for the Hooters Girl to accomplish her job duties: women’s bodies are tools of the trade, so they should be exempt from the federal discrimination ban.
Breastraunts are examples of sexually objectifying environments, which are settings, subcultures, or situations that encourage, deepen, and justify the treatment of women as sexual objects, according to scholars. Beauty pageants, cheerleading squads, modeling, and fraternity little-sister societies are examples of this.
Restaurants that emphasize women’s body while denying their humanity and individuality promote sexually objectifying situations in two ways:
- By putting women’s bodies and sexuality on show
- By promoting the “male gaze.”
Furthermore, some employers will make waitresses maintain the weight for which they were employed. These restaurants will also advertise sex appeal of its waitresses through events (such as wet T-shirt competitions among waitresses) and products (such as swimsuit calendars).
Meanwhile, restaurants that elicit the “man gaze” implicitly recognize and sanction male customers’ “right” to watch, stare at, and visually inspect waitresses’ bodies — and even to rate the sexual attractiveness and appearance of female servers.
More money and freedom come at a price.
Our study team conducted two investigations in order to throw light on the subject. The first was a qualitative study in which waitresses from a so-called breastaurant were questioned.
The major reasons participants opted to work and stay at restaurants were to make more money than they might have otherwise and to have a high degree of flexibility in structuring their work schedule. They also claimed being grabbed, having images taken of their body parts without consent, being propositioned for sexual favors — and, in some cases, being stalked — as well as receiving unwelcome vulgar comments, sexual approaches, and other forms of sexual harassment from customers.
Anxiety, wrath, sadness, low mood, perplexity, and degradation were all mentioned by the waitresses as unpleasant emotions associated with these events.
Shame and depression are palpable.
Although this study gave a detailed and descriptive account of these waitresses’ lives, it did not reveal whether their experiences were similar to those of women working in restaurants that did not create a sexually objectifying environment.
As a result, we conducted a second quantitative study, in which we polled a national sample of 253 servers who worked in a variety of settings, from fine dining to family-friendly, informal eateries.
Classic objectification theory is also supported by our findings. That is, our findings support the hypothesis that women who work as waitresses in sexually objectifying contexts will soon increase their habitual body and appearance monitoring. This, in turn, makes them feel more self-conscious about their bodies. And as their feelings of shame about their bodies grow, so does their melancholy.
What’s the end result?
Many people get unsatisfied with their work as a result of their experiences. We also discovered a significant inverse relationship: the more their bodies and sexuality were exposed, the less satisfied they were with their professions.
Our findings imply that, while restaurants may be beneficial for waitresses’ wallets, they do not appear to be healthy for their psychological or work-related health. Unfortunately, women are sexually objectified in a variety of scenarios and settings, ranging from cultural to interpersonal.