Driving from California State University, Northridge into the city of Van Nuys was a great shift in landscape, culture, and space. As I drove closer to the Van Nuys area, the streets began to be filled with traffic and sidewalks were crowded with people walking around or standing waiting for the bus. While analyzing the new space surrounding me, the architecture of the buildings and houses were obviously older than those of the ones in Northridge next to campus. The billboards and advertisements shifted from English and more American to Spanish and more Hispanic. Supermarkets and restaurants in the area were more ethnic, exclusively Latino and Central American based. While in the area of Panorama City and Van Nuys, I visited two El Salvaordean restaurants: Pura Uva Mami and Restaurante Cali Viejo. It came to my attention that the waitresses at both restaurants were dressed disparately. Due to the expectations of the owner as a business tactic or possibly the climate of their hometown, El Salvador, the waitresses were dressed differently. The issue of sexism is present in the space of these El Salvadorian restaurants due to expectations of the women to dress a certain way in order to attract customers, most importantly male. Some restaurants use the tactic of attracting male customers who have most likely immigrated by themselves and come to eat at restaurants to find cultural food but stay for the attractive waitresses.
Before jumping to conclusion and judging the waitress at Restaurante Cali Viejo because of her promiscuous uniform, researching online to affirm the weather and typical attire in El Salvador was needed. Due to the hot climate in Central America, it is a recommendation to wear weightless fabrics and light colors in order to pass the heat. Also, El Salvadorean’s “in their daily lives… wear modest, casual clothing that is colorful and comfortable…Tight skirts covered their curvy figures… Skirts were worn at ankle length, modestly covering the legs. Topping the skirt was a long-sleeved lace blouse buttoned up to the neck” (Ehow). Pura Uva Mami’s Spanish and English speaking waitress was dressed conservatively in a white t-shirt with a black tank top under and black loose fitting pants with very light pink makeup and a huge welcoming smile on her face. However, the Restaurante Cali Viejo solely Spanish speaking waitress wore a short jean mini skirt, a tight blue shirt with the El Salvadorian Flag, with dark blue eye shadow excessively applied to match her shirt. The waitress at Pura Uva Mami met the expectations of the traditional El Salvadorian, covering up to her neck down to her ankles, while the Cali Viejo waitress was dressed in a more provocative, not traditionally at all. El Salvadorian women were accustomed to wear pieces of clothing that covered a majority of their bodies. In El Salvador, cleavage and nothing above the ankle should even be exposed. The waitress at Cali Viejo was not dressed due to her traditions. Perhaps her attire embodies a plead for attention and motive for tips from the male customers who appreciate her little outfits.
In an interview I composed, I spoke directly to the waitress and owner at Pura Uva Mami. The waitress informed me that she has also visited Restaurante Cali Viejo, the other restaurant I am also analyzing. She compared their work ethics and her appearance to the other waitress and noticed the difference in their choice of clothing. Although it can be argued that the waitress at Cali Viejo was trying to mimic the clothing usually worn in El Salvador due to the damp climate, during cold weather in California, it would not be reasonable to dress in short skirts and wear heavy make up. The climate in California does not come close to the humidity in El Salvador. I came to conclusion, with the help of the waitress and owner at Pura Uva Mami that the waitress’ boss at Cali Viejo most likely constructed that sort of attire a type of uniform for her and the other waitresses. While speaking to the boss at Pura Uva Mami, he stated that he has say over how his employees dress. He said that he wants his waitresses to be comfortable but be presentable at the same time, wearing plainly black and white. As an owner, he informed me that it is his duty to give the waitresses a uniform; they cannot just wear whatever they desire. Part of owning a business is making sure all those aspects are taken care of. Ironically, I would imagine that naming a restaurant “Pura Uva Mami,” referring to a phrase men would compliment women with in order to woo them in El Salvador, would be more sexism and expect waitresses to dress more promiscuously.
Attractive and tightly dressed women are hired for businesses, especially restaurants like Hooters and Restaurante Cali Viejo, in order to attract more customers, mainly men, in order to bring in more money and income. Aside from food and drinks, sexism is also served in restaurants. At most food place, female waitresses are prized weapons used to work their magic in order to sell more products and gain more tips. Believe it or not, “men who dine at Hooters restaurants have certain expectations, some of which may have to do with food and drink. But the chain’s primary attraction, waitresses of ample bosom and less than ample costume, got some measure of legal protection. The company settled a class action in Chicago brought by men who claimed sexual discrimination when the chain refused to hire them as waiters” (Time). Business owners prefer the appeal of women over men due to the benefits that result from hiring a waiter over waitress. Women have the power to dress, talk, walk, and look a certain way in order to use it to their advantages. Studies show that women who present themselves in an attractive matter and wear “make-up attract 25 per cent more in tips than their fresh-faced counterparts” (Dailymail.com). These tactics are aimed toward male customers, not so much women. It becomes evident that majority of men are lured by this tactic because researches have found, through an experiment, that “186 men and 98 women who all lunched alone in the same restaurant, [was] served by two waitresses aged 19 and 20…Psychologist Ingrid Collins, from the London Medical Centre, said men tipped the made-up waitresses more because they appeared more sexually alluring – and also because the cosmetics made them seem more child-like and needy. She said: ‘The object of make-up is to enhance the features, making the eyes bigger and the mouth fuller, much like the proportions of a baby’s face. Women look more vulnerable but alternatively the enlargement of the lips suggests sexual availability and arousal. ‘It makes men feel they need to be masculine and tipping, providing for this need, does that rather well’”(Dailymail.com). Restaurants not only need delicious and unique food to flourish, but they also need attractive women to serve their food in order to fully serve their customers, aiming especially toward men. In an academic journal news article, the author Milfor Prewitt writes about the same issue of sexism present in restaurants. Marchadier states, “I think women add a sexy element to fine dining. It’s nice to be served by charming, beautiful women” (Not for Men Only). There is just something about women and their people skills that allows them to lure and charm others. Business owners formed this scheme of using attractive women to seduce their male customers to result in a bigger check and tip. It seems as though women need to sell themselves first in order to sell other products.
Have you ever heard the saying, “business is business?” For some restaurants, they take advantage of women’s sex appeal and use it against the nature of men. This endless cycle is a complete unethical business scheme. Waitresses are told to look and dress a certain way to magnetize men and their money. Instead of using other methods to advertise and catch the attention of others to bring in more business, it is easier, more convenient, and cheaper to hire waitresses that have the appeal to keep bringing in customers. An easy target for Central American restaurants to aim toward is the Central American man who traveled alone to the United States. Targeting these men are effective because they miss their traditional food but they miss their culture’s women even more.
Prewitt, Milford. “Not for Men Only: Fine Dining Urged to Hire Females.” Nation’s Restaurant
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Pura Uva Mami: Owner Interview. Rec. 14 Mar. 2011. Leanne Villarivera, 2011. MP3.
Pura Uva Mami: Waitress Interview. Rec. 14 Mar. 2011. Leanne Villarivera, 2011. MP3.
What Every Waitress Should Know If They Want to up Their Tips by 25 per Cent..”
Dailymail.com. Jo Macfarlane, 1 June 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2011. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1189756/What-waitress-wear-want-tips-25-cent-.html>.
“What Kind of Clothes Do El Salvadorans Wear?” Ehow.com. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.
Zagorin, Adam. “Sexism Will Be Served.” Time V. 150 (October 13 1997) P. 65, 150 (1997): 65.
Web. 21 Mar. 2011.
I would like to thank Freya Rojo for helping me develop my ideas.
I would like to thank Brendan Yaffe and Raz Zapanta for peer editing my essay.
I would like to thank the owner and waitress at Pura Uva Mami for the interviews.