Ottawa restaurant's male servers get taste of workplace discrimination

Men working at an Ottawa restaurant say they felt vulnerable and uncomfortable — not to mention the physical pain — wearing high heels and short dresses to serve customers on Wednesday night.

'After 45 minutes to an hour of wearing the heels, the pain I was in, I just had no focus'

Male servers at Ottawa's Union Local 613 restaurant dress in heels and skirts to highlight workplace discrimination

6 years ago
Duration 0:53
Ottawa restaurant's male servers dress in heels and skirts to get a taste of workplace discrimination

This pretty much sums up the way men working at the Ottawa restaurant Union Local 613 felt about serving customers in short dresses and high heels on Wednesday night:

Co-owner Matt Fantin squeezes past server Tristan Bragaglia-Murdock to get to the kitchen during service. (CBC News)

"If this is what women have to deal with in days or weeks or years of working in restaurants, or wherever they're working, then I can't even really imagine that, actually. It's kind of tough," said busser and server James Tilden.

The male staff decided to dress up after a CBC Marketplace story last week on restaurant dress codes and found that many women felt compelled to wear sexy outfits — including high heels, tight skirts and heavy makeup — to keep their jobs.

The men lasted only an hour or two in the heels, which ran the gamut from red stilettos to cheap, black, strappy numbers.

But aside from the physical pain, they also described feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable as they worked.

A CBC camera caught Tilden's butt and chest being groped and poked. Co-owner Ivan Gedz described being grabbed by people he knew on the way downstairs — they quickly piped down when they realized Gedz was wearing a microphone, he said. And sometimes, joking customers went a little too far.

Servers discuss how the night went in high heels

6 years ago
Duration 5:02
Union Local 613 servers had a chat about how the night went after they dressed in high heels and short dresses to serve customers.

'Being stared at a lot'

"I walked downstairs, and it was a couple people we know in the industry and I won't use their names. They shut up pretty quick when they realized I was [wearing a microphone], but they kind of grabbed me or whatnot ... and I was like dude, do you get what we're [doing]?" Gedz said.

Ivan Gedz and staffers at Union Local 613 once wore skimpy women's clothing to highlight discrimination in the restaurant business. (CBC)

"Guys were making comments, jokingly of course, because that's what we were going for — to show light to it — but even those jokes that they were making were, after a while, still very uncomfortable to be faced with," said Tristan Bragaglia-Murdock, who was also serving on Wednesday.

Tilden said he eventually wanted to stop serving one particularly rowdy table.

"I went there if I had to, but kind of avoided it," he said. "I asked [another server] to take [a drink to them], and that was because I was like, OK, I could deal with this again, and I know it's joking and I was joking with them the first time, but at that point, I just didn't really want to deal with it.... It was annoying, and I just wanted to give them the drink and walk away, but I realized that wasn't going to be an option."

"I feel like this isn't exactly what it's like for women, however I feel like I'm put on the spot. I feel like I'm being stared at a lot. Obviously people are kind of smiling and smirking about it, but I feel like I'm on the spot and kind of the centre of attention," Tilden said.

'No need for a sexualized costume'

Co-owner Matt Fantin said the heels hurt him so much he couldn't function normally.

James Tilden says he felt like he was the centre of attention all night. (CBC News)

"After 45 minutes to an hour of wearing the heels, the pain I was in, I just had no focus for what needed to be done. And I would purposely make decisions contrary to what I would have in my right mind. I would see something on a table and be like, I can't turn around and fix that, so that's just going to have to stay how it is. Nowhere close to my normal level of service," he said.

Among the customers at Union Local 613 Wednesday were a few women who say they've experienced or witnessed sex discrimination at restaurants.

Kelly Reid has worked for restaurant chains including Jack Astor's, Boston Pizza, Red Lobster and East Side Mario's, as well as independent restaurants. She said sex discrimination was particularly bad at the chains.

Kelly Reid says she worked at Jack Astor's and watched another server get sent home because she wasn't wearing makeup. (CBC News)

"Their kind of corporate line that they would give is, look like you're going to the party, not coming home from the party. So I did witness a girl get sent home [from Jack Astor's] because she wasn't wearing any makeup. They said you need to have at least mascara on before you can work," Reid said.

"I've worked in the industry for a long time, and there is absolutely no need for a sexualized costume when it comes to women."

'Reinforces how ridiculous it is'

Jennifer Hatchard, who worked at a Jack Astor's in Toronto in July 2014 and said she quit after being sent home for not wearing enough jewelry on shift, was also at Union Wednesday night.

Jennifer Hatchard says she quit working at a Jack Astor's in Toronto after she was sent home for not wearing enough accessories. (CBC News)

"I came here tonight because I love the idea of reversing sexist dress codes required in some restaurants to male colleagues. Seeing them wearing heels and short skirts is really something. I wanted to come down and be a part of it," she said.

"It reinforces how ridiculous it is. Seeing men walk by in tight miniskirts and heels really just hits it home how crazy it is to ask women to do that."

At the end of the day, Gedz said it's about choice.

"If a woman chooses to dress like this, she's made that choice and she's going to feel comfortable doing it. I guess I've made this choice to a degree, but I wouldn't be making this choice tomorrow. I can tell you that," he said.

Ivan Gedz walks a little more comfortably after ditching his heels. (CBC News)
The heels ranged from red stilletos like these to black lace-ups. (CBC News)
The male servers said they felt like they were being stared at a lot on Wednesday night. (CBC News)
Some of the staff raised the hemlines of their dresses to conform to what some women are asked to wear at chain restaurants. (CBC News)
The men said they felt like they couldn't perform their tasks as they normally do. (CBC News)
A CBC News camera caught one customer grabbing server and busser James Tilden's butt and chest on Wednesday night at the Union Local 613 restaurant in Ottawa. (CBC News)


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