7 Bartenders Share Stories of Gender Discrimination They’ve Faced at Work
From bosses who wouldn’t train them to customers who refused to order from them.
Inequality continues to be a major problem in the food and beverage industry. Only six percent of restaurants are owned by women—and those who work in kitchens often face sexual harassment and other forms of abuse, with women of color often getting the worst treatment. (Women food industry professionals are often under-represented on TV, too.) And it’s no different, unfortunately, for the women who work on the beverage side of things.
We spoke with seven bartenders who shared stories of struggles they’ve faced to snag a position as a bartender—and what they’ve endured as they’ve worked behind the bar—from bosses who refused to train them to customers who wouldn’t order from them.
(If you feel you've experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace, check out ROC United for resources on actions you can take. Also make sure to read up on Tip Out Day, which will take place on April 8.)
1. “My boss wouldn’t train me as a bartender because I was a woman.”
“I got into cocktails as a cocktail waitress and my mind was blown—I had never realized you could be so creative and make so many delicious things. But when I asked my boss if I could be trained to bartend, the response I got was ‘no.’ He told me that I was just a cocktail waitress, and I didn’t fit the ‘image’ that he wanted. In retrospect, I think there were more issues at play than the fact I didn’t look like Jerry Thomas, but that's how it read. I quit and went to a place that believed in me.” — Ivy Mix, cofounder of Speed Rack
2. “Guests have said lewd things to me, grabbed my ass, and been demeaning.”
“The mixology and bartending scene in L.A. is very open to women. Although there still seems to be more men than women, there are many very talented women working here. Before I became a bartender, as a young server and actor, I had problems with authority figures attempting to be abusive. Since I’ve been in the bartender role, however, I have been incredibly fortunate to have only encountered support, encouragement, and respect among the men for whom I’ve worked. Sure, there have been many inappropriate guests. They’ve said lewd things to me, grabbed my ass, and just generally been demeaning. And there are plenty of guests that want to mansplain things to me, from bourbon laws to what mezcal is and the difference between Californian and French wine. I just nod and smile; taking it personally does me no good.” — Sarah Mengoni, bartender at Double Take
3. “I was questioned, second-guessed, and harassed about my knowledge and looks.”
“I have definitely felt like I was questioned a lot more, second-guessed, and harassed about my knowledge and my looks more than any of my male coworkers. And I’ve always felt that I had to work much, much harder to prove myself. When I first started working behind the bar—it was a dive bar—I was extremely shy, but quickly realized that I had to have thick skin and quick comebacks. I started off being this shy, ‘nice’ girl, but I think a lot of people can take that as a weakness. I think it comes back to having to prove that I belong here, that I am hard working and I am not just some object that you can say anything you want to.” — Stephanie Sanchez, bartender at Hideout Cocktails & Dining and Cocktail Artist mixologist
4. “Even though I passed all the tests, I was never hired over a male interviewee.”
“When I was in Philadelphia, I had no problem getting a bartending job. But, surprisingly, when I moved to Los Angeles, it was like pulling teeth. I would go to interviews and they would ask if I was there to be a cocktail waitress or manager. I would tell them that I was applying to be a bartender and then pass their tests with higher scores than all of the male interviewees—and yet, somehow, I was not considered as a contender. I was told at one interview that they didn't hire female bartenders. They would also ask if I was a model or actress, and if I needed days off to go to casting calls. I would let them know that I'm a food and beverage professional, and they would look at me as if I was telling a bold-faced lie.” — Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at The Dorsey in The Venetian Resort and Hotel
5. “You constantly have to prove yourself.”
“Unfortunately, there are many boy’s clubs still out there, and as a woman, it's complicated navigating that. You find yourself constantly having to prove yourself—especially if you’re attractive. This might sound vain or superficial, but I live in Miami. Think about it: if you’re good looking and you’re behind a bar, it’s immediately assumed you got that job because of how you look and not because of your skills as a bartender. There are highly skilled women who have been working extremely hard and who have made a career of this—and they are not behind the bar because they are a pretty face. I have been let go, told ‘it’s not going to work out,’ and straight-up fired from all-male-run bars and hospitality companies. In each circumstance, I walked away believing it was because I was a female who was excelling in the establishment. For example, at one place, when the bar manger realized how good I was, he began testing me with menial tasks. He then asked me to come sit in a private booth with him to talk. He told me how great I was but in a very flirty, condescending way. Then he said that I needed to work on my attitude and that he didn’t see me meshing well with his staff. He told me it wasn’t going to work, as he touched my arm to console me.” — Carla Marie Rivera, director of cocktail development at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits
6. “I was dismissed by a patron because I was female.”
“I was bartending with another male bartender when a group of older men approached us and asked what bourbon we had. I began to speak and one of the guests said, ‘That’s cute, but I didn’t ask for vodka. Can he tell me about whiskey?’ I was shocked. I had trained the other bartender on spirits and was being dismissed because I was a female. I think in that guest’s mind, being a woman meant I could not possibly be intelligent enough to assist him because whiskey is a stereotypically masculine spirit. That experience drove me to learn even more so that future guests wouldn’t be able to argue my knowledge base. Being young and female—and a bartender—is difficult. I get asked often, ‘Are you old enough to serve me that?’ For a long time, it hurt and I felt belittled. But I have become more confident as a bartender because I know that I start off one step behind some of my peers, so I have to be the best at what I do.” — Anna Pereda, senior food & beverage manager at The Adolphus
7. “If you couldn't grow a mustache, you weren’t taken seriously as a craft bartender.”
“I think the scene now is much more open for women to be behind the bar, as a whole, but it hasn't always been that way. I was lucky when I first started bartending, because at that time—in the mid-'90s—it was almost necessary to be a girl to be a bartender. There was this antiquated idea that if you put cute girls behind the bar, your financial dreams as an owner would be realized, and I feel that this may be where some of the backlash that women have encountered in the craft scene may have come from. Once the speakeasy, mustachioed bar-man appeared, women suddenly found it a struggle to move from cocktail server to bartender—like if you couldn't grow a mustache you couldn't be taken seriously as a craft bartender. Somehow the ability to grow facial hair was directly proportionate to the amount of knowledge people decided that you had—the larger the mustache or beard the better the bartender. I have had frustrating interactions because I was a woman behind the bar. For instance, one night, there were three female bartenders and one male bar back behind the bar. On more than one occasion, a guest would come in and as one of the female bartenders would approach them, the guest would quickly say that he would ‘like to wait for him to make our drinks.’ Him? The bar back? And it wasn’t just men who would say it—women said it too.” — Jen Ackrill, director of mixology at Top of Waikiki and Sky Waikiki