The American restaurant industry is number one for sexual harassment claims


The first time I was ever sexually harassed on the job, it was while waiting tables. The second, third, fourth, and fifth times I was sexually harassed on the job, it was while waiting tables. The first time, I reported it to my boss, but it happened so often that I stopped telling her about it. I learned to just grit my teeth and bring the assholes their beer.

Of all the sexual harassment claims that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives every year, fully 37 percent of them come from one place: the restaurant industry. That makes the restaurant industry the largest source of sexual harassment claims to the EEOC in the nation – and that’s before you account for the fact that sexual harassment is underreported. 

That miserable new finding comes from a new study from the Restaurant Opportunities Center and Forward Together, the most accurate study to date of how employees in this industry experience sexual harassment. The news, to put it lightly, is not good.

This study finds sexual harassment in restaurants is widespread, and is experienced by all types of workers. The highly sexualized environment in which restaurant workers labor impacts every major workplace relationship, with restaurant workers reporting high levels of harassing behaviors from restaurant management (66%), co-workers (80%), and customers (78%). Sixty percent of women and transgender workers,and 46% of men reported that sexual harassment was an uncomfortable aspect of work life, and 60% of transgender, 50% of women and 47% of men reported experiencing ‘scary’ or ‘unwanted’ sexual behavior. Forty percent of transgender, 30% of women, and 22% of men reported that being touched inappropriately was a common occurrence in their restaurant. *

* (ETA ed. note: Since when is “transgender” a third gender category? That’s a messed up and inaccurate way of presenting this data.)

You’ll note that workers report being harassed by customers almost as much as by their co-workers. The latter would be bad enough, but the former has insidious implications for their pay, since most employees in this industry depend on tips to pull their wages up to something resembling a living wage. So you have to be nice to the client who’s making suggestive comments while you try to do your job – which is waiting on him – because if you don’t, you’re in trouble at the checkout counter at the grocery store this week. You have to grin and bear it when a customer gropes you while you try to do your job – which, again, is waiting on his every whim – because your kids need clothes and shoes and school supplies.

As one woman in this video says, living off tips makes you desperate.

But wait, it gets worse. As we’ve covered before, most tipped restaurant workers are women. And in some states, it’s legal to pay tipped restaurant workers $2.13 an hour. You read that right: in 2014, in the United States, it is legal to pay people two dollars and thirteen cents per hour for their work. Because, the reasoning goes, the customers will tip them, thereby closing the gap between $2.13 and the federal minimum wage, which is still a paltry $7.25 an hour. To the surprise of absolutely no one, economics and gender intersect in a brutal way here: women are more likely to hold these jobs where their pay depends on how much their customers like them, and the women who hold those jobs are far more likely to be sexually harassed on the job. They’re also 300% more likely “to be told by management to alter their appearance and to wear ‘sexier,’ more revealing clothing.” Tipped women workers in states that don’t allow you to pay tipped workers less report less sexual harassment.

Why pay your workers equally or fairly when you can rely on the generosity (and rampant sexual harassment) of the American dining public to pick up the slack, right?

Avatar ImageChloe Angyal wishes she had “accidentally” spilled beer on those guys.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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