Living For Tips — Why Waitresses Put Up With Sexual Harassment

Claudia Chi Ku is a single mother of four who works as a server, food-runner, and bartender at a popular Mexican grill in Los Angeles. Like many in the restaurant industry, Chi Ku faces sexual harassment daily, while averaging just $10 in tips per shift.

Customers often ask for her phone number and make suggestive comments while she takes their orders. She tolerates more than she might otherwise because she needs the money.

“You have to respond in a nice way so they don’t feel bad,” she says, “In the end, I depend on their tips – I depend on them being there.”

“I’d rather have a reasonable wage that I know for sure I can count on, every time I work,” she says. “Some customers leave only a dollar, some don’t leave anything.”

A Culture of Harassment

There are more than 11 million restaurant workers in the United States, and many of them have stories similar to Chi Ku’s, said Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California at Berkeley and co-director or the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United). 

The food service industry is notoriously hard on its workers, in part because the federal minimum wage is just $2.13 for people who earn tips, Jayaraman said. Only seven states have eliminated the two-tier system meaning they have one minimum wage for both tipped and non-tipped workers.

Those rock-bottom earnings all but guarantee a climate in which food servers put up with customer harassment just to eke out a living, she said. Unlike what many people might assume, most restaurant workers aren’t serving expensive meals in fine-dining establishments. Rather, they’re on the front lines in chains like Denny’s, the Olive Garden, and Applebees. 

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Job Coach you are great but...

How many times must I mention I am DeafBlind. This means I CANNOT do Restaurant positions (hostess, waitress, counter person) due to the fact that a) I cannot hear b) bad lighting 3) I’m blind 4) balance is off because of deafblindness… Also, I cannot do receptionist position, admin assistant because that is meant to be a PHONE job. Yeah you said “Oh they could probably just give you stuff that doesn’t involve phones…” Uh… have you worked an Admin position before? It does require a phone to do it. 

Both Admin jobs I did was scanning, filing, social media, cleaning jobs. I begged them NOT to make me use the phone.
It’s unfortunate I’m limited to such job positions… but I can do sales associate, retail, being with children, or people contact of sorts… I don’t know. Just nothing to do with restaurants, food courts, or receptionist positions! I told you I am DEAF!! I cannot do PHONES!!! But I get put into reception jobs! I can be a daycare person BECAUSE I HAVE THE SKILLS TO DO IT! Even if I must, a cook or assistant or SOMETHING because I have food safe… so more behind the scenes… 

Eesh finding a job for someone who is Deafblind is a lot harder than it looks…