Last week on Jezebel, Lindy West posted one of Hooters' new ads. Here's the premise: a lifeguard is bored and grossed out by watching old ladies do water aerobics. Two owl puppets pop up above his shoulders, the ol' angel vs. devil gag.
One tries to keep him focused on not letting the old women drown in the shallow end and the other urges him to say, “What purpose do old ladies serve other than disgusting us with their droopy, cellulite-dimpled bodies? Fuck them (NOT LITERALLY), go eat at Hooters because young, dumb girls with tight, tan bodies will pretend to like you in exchange for a tip.”
West takes down the ad with typical incisive humor, calling out the ad's stale jokes and the tired, persistent mentality we have in this country that the older a woman gets, the less nubile she becomes. But what struck me most was this line: “Of course I get that sex appeal is exchanged for tips in pretty much all corners of the food service industry.”
I used to be a bartender. The last place I worked was this super classy bistro in the South. Men in bow ties who came from old tobacco money would sit at the tiny bar waiting for their expensive take-out and talk to me while drinking a bourbon on the rocks, then tip me 40 percent. I'm not naive enough to believe there weren't some sexual politics at play, but I also wore a uniform that included a long-sleeved white shirt buttoned up to the neck and a tie. It was in no way sexy.
So it came as a surprise when a busser casually mentioned how much like strippers bartenders are, even bartenders wearing the equivalent of a burka like I was. You aren't naked, he said, but you're basically a blank slate onto which a guy can project whatever personality traits he wants. You ask these guys questions about themselves and listen without ever sharing anything personal about yourself. You smile, flirt and laugh at their jokes. They know you HAVE to do all these things because if you're a bitch or ignore them, you won't get tipped much, if at all, and that's how you make most of your money.
I told him he was full of shit. I was just being friendly, and when I engaged in a long conversation with some guy at the bar, it was because I genuinely was interested in what he had to say. They knew they didn't have a chance in hell of sleeping with me. They were just rich dudes who thought nothing of laying down a $20 bill on a $40 tab. They slipped the guy bartenders fat tips, too, I argued.
What I failed to realize was that by not putting my tits in some guy's face or grinding on his lap in a strip club, I actually seemed more attainable. You walk into a strip club, you understand the transaction about to take place. You walk into a restaurant, you understand the transaction, too — food is exchanged for money, not sex. A girl leaning on the bar listening intently to how your day went feels a lot like a really good date.
One and one time only, when the tables were turned and I was the one being served, I gave a bartender my number. From the minute I'd arrived, he had kept doubling back to talk to me, making sure to take good care of me, topping off my glass without my ever asking, never charging me for anything, maintaining eye contact a touch too long. I tipped him well. I also gave him my number even though I had insider info (which is: don't ever give your number to a bartender, waste of time, s/he will never call you and then you'll be too embarrassed to ever go back into that bar).
And he never called and I was too embarrassed to ever go back into that bar. Rookie mistake — I thought he was flirting with me because he liked me, not because he just was bored and I happened to be the best option for a little fun that night.
I fell for the game, and that's when I realized that busser was right: I had so mastered the game, I didn't even know I was playing it.
Are bartenders just strippers with clothes on? Have you ever thought one really liked you? Have you ever given out your number and actually gotten a call or started dating? Bartenders, have you ever broken the golden rule and dated a customer? Tell, tell, tell.