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If You Can't Handle The Heat: Sexism In Restaurant Kitchens

Illustration for article titled If You Cant Handle The Heat: Sexism In Restaurant Kitchens

More often than not, there's some blatant misogyny going on behind the kitchen doors in your local restaurant.

The hospitality industry is known to be one of experimentation and excess. This is possibly why the prevalence of substance abusers in the industry is so high. That being said, while the front of house more often than not has several women on the floor, and potentially some at the helm; the back of house is predominately dominated by men.

More than half of workers in the food service industry are women. Understanding that, less than 20 percent of chefs in American restaurants are women. A common gender stereotype is that if there's a woman in the kitchen, she's a pastry chef and not behind the line. Women are maligned in the restaurant industry in other ways. The average female server makes 68% of what male servers make, and the average black woman server only makes 60% when compared to male servers, highlighting how both race and gender make a difference in tipping culture. The restaurant industry is also the largest source of sexual harassment claims.

Female employees in the service industry can almost always share a terrible story about a male kitchen employee treating them like garbage. Because I wanted other perspectives, I reached out to other Kinja users that I knew were in the service industry. Being a straight, white, cis-gendered female in New England, I also reached out to individuals from different backgrounds than my own and who had different positions in the service industry. All have asked to remain anonymous, with the exception of Kinja user intheweeds. Below are our collective stories. The real question, and crux of this post, is: why is sexism in restaurant kitchen's so prevalent?

"Honestly, if you want to understand why/how kitchens are sexist, you have to understand the culture. It's a very tough and specific kind of culture you don't find many other places."

In that statement, Kinja user intheweeds sets the stage for the rest of the Kinja user's experiences. intheweeds is a queer woman of color who works behind the line in a fine dining establishment. The kitchen culture is one that is rather unique. Kitchens are places where substance abuse is commonplace. In addition to addiction, violence (usually the verbal kind) and bullying are also prevailing aspects of the kitchen culture in many parts of the country.


The violence and bullying aspect of the kitchen culture was mentioned specifically by intheweeds in her dialogue with me.

"Another thing about chefs is that every goddamned one of them thinks they are the best chef in the city and way too many of them think acting as power hungry and psychopathic as possible with their staff is the way to be a good chef."

In a culture where mostly men berate each other, mercilessly, and believe that they're running the show (arguably, they are), it's no surprise when that attitude trickles over to female staff. Intheweeds continued:

"So pair the attitude of a narcissist who thinks he can do anything he wants and get away with it (mainly because he probably can, there are no 'laws' or 'morality' in professional kitchens) with a close quarters shift with an attractive straight woman with a relatively subdued personality and you get a guy that brags at staff meal the next day to the entire shift that 'he totally made her eat pie out of his hand.'"

As I had mentioned previously, most women that work in the service industry (myself included) can list a myriad of altercations they've had with male chefs. One anonymous Kinja user stated:

"Our kitchen staff is all male, and most of them treat the women servers differently than the men servers (I hate to sound all 'not all men,' but some of them are decent to everyone). We don't have as many guys on the serving floor as we do women, but they seem to get treated better."

The Kinja user continued:

"But more than half of the time, when most of the women (and I say 'most,' which I'll get to later) push a plate back (for legitimate reasons, like they forgot to put cheese on a burger even though the ticket says 'cheeseburger'), they'll politely say something along the lines of 'Hey Joe? This was supposed to be a cheeseburger with Pepper Jack, can you throw a slice of cheese on there for me please?' They will sometimes get the look of death, as if they just spat in their face, and either a snide comment or something muttered under their breath at them. Because you're a woman and how dare you question their ability to do their job as a cook, because they're never wrong, even when they clearly are. They're the men and therefore running the show. You can be polite as can be, but half of the time (even when we're NOT busy), they'll be a jerk to you."

Anonymous went on to say:

"I, along with a couple of the other women, never have this problem. Because they think we're pretty. We, also, say 'please and thank you' with our requests, and they give us whatever we want - along with a wink, a smile, and some sort of comment along the lines of "anything for you, baby." They never go farther than that with me, so it's nothing I need to be worried about, if that's what any of you are thinking. Plus, if they got even more out of line I'd have no problem telling them off (I've done it before, and I'll do it again.) I'm not afraid of them, they just tend to get annoying. (And please, no one tell me to report them, because someone else already tried and they got that ridiculous response of 'I'm sure they're just kidding around.' So why bother. I can handle them on my own anyways.) "

I have my own stories of men treating me like I'm an incompetent dullard while I was in the kitchen as well. At my last position, the male Chef de Cuisine was running the kitchen while our head chef was on vacation. We were getting slammed. I needed my manager on the floor. I stepped back into the kitchen and asked him if he saw our manager. I did this because often times, the manager wandered into the back of our extensive kitchen with dirty dishes from clearing tables, etc. He snapped back at me that he didn't know. During service, he complained to my manager that I had asked him if they knew where they were. Feeling awful, (as I respected his authority and autonomy in the kitchen, and felt really badly), I went back after service to apologize, and did so.
"It's clear that you don't have common courtesy." He said, glaring at me. All this man had to do was accept my apology. I was fuming. I turned, left the kitchen, and said sorry again. He promptly shouted "FUCK OFF!" after me. Other female servers also complained constantly in regards to how this Chef talked to them, ending in a cumulatively epic blow-out in which one server screamed,
"You can't talk to me like that! I'm not your fucking wife!"

Do any of you have stories about male chefs treating you badly when you worked in restaurants?

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