Manitoba

High heels don't work for servers, podiatrist and former waitress say in support of NDP bill

While there's a laundry list of complications that can arise from working in high heels, a Winnipeg podiatrist says there's a more obvious reason not to require servers to wear them: they don't make sense as work shoes.

'The service was slower because you couldn't move as quickly' says former server Jess Rae Ayre

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine has introduced a bill that would stop employers from requiring staff to wear high heels. (The Associated Press)

While there's a laundry list of complications that can arise from working in high heels, a Winnipeg podiatrist says there's a more obvious reason not to require servers to wear them: they don't make sense as work shoes.

Earlier this week, NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine entered a private member's bill that would ban employers from requiring inappropriate or unsafe shoes. Fontaine said the goal is to stop restaurants from forcing or strongly encouraging servers to wear up to three-inch heels during their shifts.

Dr. Christopher Fernando, a podiatrist at Central Foot Clinic, says a 2½-inch heel increases the load put on the front bones of the feet by 75 per cent.

"It's a probably uncomfortable position to be in for an extended period of time, especially if your work requires you to be weight-bearing," he said.

In a flatter, more comfortable shoe, you could probably — you might actually be more productive.- Podiatrist Christopher Fernando

The increased pressure can cause calluses and corns, tightness in the Achilles tendon and calf muscles, compressed and displaced toes or pinched nerves, he said.

"You're putting the foot into a narrower box," he said.

And heels can affect your posture. In order to maintain your centre of gravity, you have to bend your knees and back, which can lead to sensitivity in those areas.

"To be forced to be in that, to be forced to meet that dress code, I think would be unfair," he said. "In a flatter, more comfortable shoe, you could probably — you might actually be more productive."

You're running at a fast pace, it can get really busy, and a lot of the actual flooring in the restaurant isn't conducive to wearing heels.- Former server Jess  Rae  Ayre

Winnipegger Jess Rae Ayre used to work at a restaurant and was required to wear heels.

When she took the job, only black clothing was required. Then the uniform changed to require a black skirt one inch above the knee. A third change required two-inch heels.

"People didn't like it," she said. "It was uncomfortable to think about, but it's like, 'OK, we'll give it a try.' And then eventually it became really apparent that it didn't work for what the job duties entailed.
Jess Rae Ayre used to work as a server. (Sweet Alibi)

"You're running at a fast pace, it can get really busy, and a lot of the actual flooring in the restaurant isn't conducive to wearing heels," she said, noting there were a few spots where several servers slipped and fell.

"After people had fallen, you actually could see the look on their face, anticipating coming up to that spot, getting ready to make sure they didn't fall."

After a year of mandatory high heels, including plenty of falls, she says the dress code was changed.

"The service was slower because you couldn't move as quickly," she said. "That's when it became optional but preferred."

But some continued to wear even taller heels than what was "preferred." 

"Good on them, if you can work efficiently in four-inch heels and that's what you want to wear, that's great," she said.

A lot of people didn't test their luck and continued to wear heels, she said, "because it's their job on the line," she said.

Ayre says she supports Fontaine's bill, because she thinks people should get to choose for themselves.

"If that's what you like to wear, and it's comfortable and it's safe for you and you want to wear it, awesome. But I don't think you should be forced into it," she said. 

"It's outdated … it's 2018. Women don't need to be wearing heels in restaurants. But that's just my personal opinion."