The Truth Behind Bartending

There’s a terrible truth to what it’s like being a female bartender in a college bar. Every shift a female works they risk being harassed, cat-called, and degraded.

Nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the hospitality industry.

Due to confidentiality, names have been changed.

Students Vanessa Smith and Melissa Johnson share their experiences with being a female bartender here at WVU.

Smith quit her job because she felt that she just wasn’t satisfied with how she was being treated at her job by her boss, co-workers, and customers.

Johnson currently is still bartending at her original location of employment.

78 percent of servers and bartenders were harassed by customers. Nearly two-thirds said they ignore sexually harassing behaviors, often for fear of looking harsh in front of other customers or losing tips.

Smith agrees with the statistic. “I have had customers harass me telling me to “give them a chance” or “let me get your number.” Walking to/from work I would get cat calls. Co-workers and men of higher positions would sexual me and encourage me to approve it.”

“No one has ever been too aggressive with his or her comments to the point that I couldn’t brush off. I have been given attitude after not giving someone my number before,” Johnson explains.

A common bartender uniform consists of short-shorts. This method is to attract customers and potentially increase their tips. However, if a worker didn’t have the proper “clothing” on they would get asked repeatedly to change.

“It was mixed emotions. I liked the attention because it brought me more tips, but I felt very disrespected and constantly had eyes on me,” says Smith.

“Sometimes it’s nice to feel confident when putting on something flattering while getting behind the bar and trying to earn tips,” says Johnson. “Other times I’ll wish I could just be in a sweatshirt.”

The stress of harassment doesn’t leave when they walk out the doors to go home.

45%, of women said they do not feel safe walking alone at night.

Bars usually close around 2-3 a.m. on the weekends and so bartenders have to walk home during the late hours of the night hoping they get home safe.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t get off until 4am, and occasionally there would be sketchy people hanging out near the exits. I usually walked home with a buddy or called my friends on the phone,” explains Smith.

“I do get scared but not from being a bartender. Just from it being late and dark and the street I live on,” Says Johnson.

Morgantown is pretty much a walk away for everything and students are still fearful for their life even if their walk is 5 minutes away.

 Cosmopolitan recently posted a Youtube video discussing harassment.

This is part of a campaign that shows the subtle ways that women are harassed. #Thatsharassment

This dramatization of co-worker to co-worker harassment is a prime example of the many issues that bartenders face.

They not only are forced to prevent harassment from intoxicated/ and or inappropriate customers but coworkers as well.

“I would get hit on all the time by my co-workers, it was super awkward and I couldn’t really talk back especially when I didn’t want to piss off the wrong people and get fired,” says Smith. “I would just ignore it.”

Bartenders Against Sexual Assault (BASA) is a Facebook group. This page unites bartenders as they are freely able to talk about the issue of sexual assault in the workplace.

This is a national issue. Women shouldn’t feel violated at work, women shouldn’t feel scared to walk home and especially women shouldn’t be fearful every day. 


5 thoughts on “The Truth Behind Bartending

  1. Ashley Conley


    This post is so important! I’ve always wondered how female bartenders find the bravery to do their job. It’s easy to assume that most of these women get harassed on the regular and your statistics backed that assumption up.

    “The stress of harassment doesn’t leave when they walk out the doors to go home.” – this is one of those lines that just really hits an emotional note with the reader. Your inclusion of two personal experiences from two bartenders who have experienced harassment allows the reader to get a sense for what these women have to go through daily. I think your post really brings awareness to this line of work and how tough of a job it really is and how it can have lasting effects.

    You had a good mix of stats, information and narrative. Great work!


  2. I have to agree with Ashley. You had a good mix of statistics, info and narrative. I liked the video that you shared because if the Cosmopolitan took the time to address the issue, it shows that its a common occurrence. I honestly couldn’t finish the video though because it was just too awkward. I know that if this was happening to me I’d of put a stop to it much earlier, but I know that in real life we can’t always afford to possibly lose out jobs. It’s a balancing act between what’s right, wrong and necessary.


  3. Cara Devenney

    I think this is such an important post especially to let those who are not late night bartenders or waitresses- what it is like. For being a waitress since I was 15, I have had people leave me their numbers, ask me for mine, asked if I had a boyfriend, etc. It makes me feel so uncomfortable because I am there to just work! When I first came to WVU, I was thinking about being a bartender because I know how much money they can make, but my boyfriend was against it and I can understand why. Plus, I would be horrified to walk home at night because just a year ago I was grabbed by a man and was told if I caused a scene he was going to hurt me. It’s a very scary thing.

    I know it’s college and people just get drunk, but there is no need to get mad at someone or short someone of a tip because they deny you. I just don’t think that is fair. I think this is just a great post overall and I hope anyone who walks home from any job at night keeps mace in their hand and stays safe!


  4. Lindsey Baatz

    I really enjoyed this post. I like that you were able to get stories from 2 female bartenders. I have a friend that is a bartender in Morgantown and she is not crazy about it. Drink prices are so cheap that many college students do not tip.

    There is danger in both working at the bar and walking home from the bar since everything is open so late in Morgantown.


  5. Pingback: Read & Respond week 16 – Best of US! | Interactive Journalism

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