Canada·Forum Recap

Should servers have to dress sexy to keep their jobs?

Should you have to dress sexy to keep your job? Many women working at some of Canada's popular restaurant chains say they do. CBC Marketplace investigated some of Canada's top restaurant chains and heard from dozens of female staff who say they felt pressured to wear revealing outfits.

Should you have to dress sexy to keep your job?

Many women working at some of Canada's popular restaurant chains say they do.

CBC Marketplace investigated some of Canada's top restaurant chains and heard from dozens of female staff who say they felt pressured to wear revealing outfits. 

"The dress is so tight that you can see your underwear through it," says a current employee of Joey Restaurants who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.

She claims she was told not to wear underwear at all in order to avoid this. 

And if you don't like a particular restaurant's dress code, it's not as simple as just getting another job, University of Ottawa law professor Joanne St. Lewis says.

"That is not the economic reality in Canada these days. People have to take the jobs that are available," she says. 

Do you think server dress codes are discriminatory?

(Please note that usernames are not necessarily the names of commenters. Some comments have been altered to correct spelling and to conform to CBC style. Click on the username to see the complete comment in the blog format.)

In the CBC Forum, we heard from people who said they had worked in the restaurant industry, and they had differing experiences.  

"I worked for Joey's for five years and it was an absolutely incredible employer. They were up front about their dress code requirements and even made a very heavy emphasis on the fact that not everyone (both men & women) can wear the same article of clothing as on one person it could look classy and the other trashy. Prior to getting a standardized dress (that was individually fitted) I do know people sent home because their outfit was too revealing or trashy. I cannot speak for other restaurants, the industry or other people, but I can say that I never felt uncomfortable in my attire or the way that management treated me." — Keltex

"I worked at a location in Edmonton. I was told to hem my dress as the company will pay my hemming fees. I said no, my hem won't affect my customer service skills and didn't acknowledge the remarks from my male manager. I didn't loose shifts, in fact I got the opposite. I wad treated equally to the male staff from that point on." —  Paige Teresa 

"It's not just the chains. I worked at a well-established local pub in Ottawa where the predominantly female staff were expected to 'look pretty,' meaning wear make-up, and 'be friendly,' meaning accept the inappropriate comments from male patrons with a smile. I was written up for not responding appropriately to one such comment (I literally just didn't respond to what was said) and subsequently fired when I gained weight and wasn't 'caring for my appearance enough' (and told in my dismissal that this was the rationale). It's a problem and I deeply regret not pursuing it further." —  Kirsten

"My first job was as a hostess at Moxie's. I was 16-17 years old and I had to wear form-fitting black clothes (dresses, skirts, boots or heels preferred). I'll never forget when one of the managers made an off-the-cuff remark to me about how they only hire attractive females in order to attract clientele to the restaurant. I was shocked - for the first time I saw myself and my fellow hostesses as objectified females, aka flashing lights enticing customers to enter, have a good time/meal and return their business. This was 13 years ago. Since then I have unfortunately seen and experienced rampant sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. One restaurant would only hire people if they scored over 7 /10 on 'hotness.' It's about time this issue is being discussed and addressed nationwide." — Sauga Girl 

"I worked as a manager for many years for one of these companies and it was disgusting the way we had to make our young woman dress and also have to rate their appearance on a 10 scale! If girls wouldn't wear heels, we had to find a way to dispose of them. If hair and makeup were not glamorous, they could not work. Even when girls brought notes from doctors, there was no mercy about their foot condition. We were told our lounges were 'unapologetically sexy.' Heels and skirts being a certain length or height does not determine the service or food quality. Great to finally expose these pigs that run these businesses and think they can determine what makes each individual sexy and appealing for their brand." — The truth

"I used to work at a Jack's in Toronto and our GM (who was male) made it very clear that we are allowed to wear what we want within their guidelines. We could wear black pants or the skort. It was our choice. If a guest ever made a rude comment our GM walked them out. I loved that job. So I had to wear some earrings... I do anyways." — There are options 

"I know exactly what they mean. My daughter trained at a new restaurant for two weeks and after, they found out about the dress code. It was like these other restaurants mentioned in this story. Not only did she stand up to them but she got them to change the code, but they also made her the assistant manager. The rest of the girls there were happier too, they just were afraid to stand up to the restaurant cause they thought they would lose their job. Proud of my girl." — WOLF28

​"I would like to comment as a former employee of Moxies. The focus here seems to be on the employees working in the bar or lounge area, what many of you are missing is that Moxies also has a dining room. The staff in the dining room must wear black dress pants, and a black uniform shirt with 3/4 length sleeves. I had no interest in putting on the lounge dress uniform, and was never forced to. No one was. The girls wearing the short dresses do so by CHOICE! I wouldn't have been fired for being uncomfortable with the idea of baring more skin. The shoes were a bigger issue, but I was told of the uniform requirement to wear heals before I was hired. Again, another CHOICE! My CHOICE!" —  formermoxies

​"I worked at Joey's. The outfit was revealing and there was a clear expectation of women to dress in sexualized and uncomfortable manner. The discrimination went beyond dress code. Sexual harassment was prevalent, and it was initiated by managers and their spouses, and head chefs. Not only was our dress code scrutinized but there also existed a double standard, men employees and supervisors as well as managers could behave in which ever manner they pleased, women on the other hand lost their jobs and had to answer questions about their marital status when they put up with sexual harassment by other employees. This is not new, it has always existed. We need better legislation for employees to stop employers from such abuse." — TGIF