Every server who's seen the abuse heaped on themselves and their co-workers has wanted to see a horrible customer get their just comeuppance through a public shaming. Today, our prayers have been answered, because someone did just that.
Laura Ramadei, a server and bartender in New York City, was at the end of her rope after five years' experience in the industry and more than her share of terrible customers. So when a New York finance bro named Brian Lederman allegedly sexually harassed her, it was the last straw:
You came into the restaurant where I work and ordered a Stoli on the rocks. When I asked you and your companion if you'd be eating, or needing anything else from me, you put your hand - ever so gently - ON MY ASS and asked if you could take me "to go". When I immediately stepped away and said "Sorry, what?" you probably gathered that I was and am not receptive of such advances from customers. We were in a family-friendly restaurant, around 6:30pm, and I was wearing a loose-fitting, long sleeve shirt, jeans, and no makeup...so I'm not sure where the confusion arose as to what kind of service you were being provided.
Fortunately for the human race and unfortunately for Lederman, a quick google search of his name (which was on his credit card) turned up where he works (Swiss Performance Management and Truehand AG, in Investment Management — SHOCKER that Lederman is a finance bro), and Laura, a graduate from NYU with honors, unleashed a brutal yet somehow polite and reasoned response to Brian Lederman and everyone like him along with a photo of his receipt:
I deal with incredible amounts of entitlement, condescension, and drunk nonsense. And at a bar, it is impossible to ignore the fact that misogyny is alive and well. I can't tell you how many times people have treated me horribly and I've memorized or photographed the names from their credit cards, fantasizing about internet revenge. But every time I've been tempted in the past (even after verbal attacks, physical affronts, or sexual harassment) I've stopped myself and let it go.
So congratulations, Brian! You've done it! You broke this tired ass camel's back. And though this is obviously a public shaming, I truly don't mean this as an attack. Maybe - just maybe - via the intimately connected internet world, my post will reach you, and you'll learn something about how hurtful and upsetting a small comment or gesture might be. Or at the very least, maybe a Facebook passerby will read this and more deeply consider how they treat women, how they treat servers, and/or how they treat other people in general.
I sympathize more than slightly with Laura more than a little bit here, as I've come perilously close to doing this in the past (the only thing that stopped me was fear of losing my job). What's more, when I talked to her about the whole incident, Laura told me that as far as she could tell, Lederman wasn't drunk; this just appears to be what he's like when sober. Fun times.
Laura is also adamant that the post was not about attacking Lederman or his family. Instead, she simply hoped to create awareness that this is the sort of thing servers have to deal with every day. And it is depressingly common — I get more email responses when I post a Behind Closed Ovens about sexual harassment than about any other topic. Anecdotally, I don't know any woman with more than a month's experience within the industry that doesn't have a story to tell on that subject.
But why is this so prevalent? What gives so many customers that feeling of ownership over servers, and in particular over the bodies of women servers? In Laura's words, "We're growing out of a time when women didn't have ownership of their own bodies, and things like objectification and subjugation weren't even talked about. With specific reference to service, it may also have to do with class discrimination. Meaning, when I go to a restaurant, I consider my server just another individual who happens to be a liaison between me and the kitchen or bar. But some people look down on food service workers and treat them like they're beneath them, or a lesser member of society. I hope that's an outdated pattern that is slowly finding its way out."
Part of the problem is also the system itself. As a bartender, Laura is liable if she "overserves" a customer, and if they're too drunk, she legally has to be responsible for cutting them off. While that law, a common one in America, sounds reasonable, in practice it leads to situations where a smaller woman like Laura, working at a bar with no bouncer, has to deny service to large, irate, already-intoxicated men.
For those concerned about Laura losing her job as a result of this post or her own, don't worry: Laura has already put in her two weeks notice. What's more, her restaurant has been unusually* (and hearteningly) supportive in the face of this incident, with the manager has already declared that Lederman will not be welcome back. This is part of a longer pattern for them, as well; according to Laura, management and her co-workers have always been encouraged to be supportive of each other when dealing with difficult customers.** In fact, her leaving has nothing to do with the restaurant itself: "I love that place. Best service job I ever had. Which is why I'm leaving. Even the best job can't protect you from the worst of the industry."
If you need further evidence of the toxicity of American customer service culture, look no further than the fact that good servers at great jobs finally feel the need to leave because they can't deal with the day-to-day abuse any more.
Update: According to the New York Post, Lederman remembers making the comment, but denies he grabbed Laura's ass. On the other hand, he bizarrely defended his actions by saying, "I grab a lot of asses," and also referred to Laura as a "fucking cunt." Oh, and he claimed he "knew everybody," and that he'd prevent her from ever working in New York again.
Boy, he sure sounds like a charming fellow. Still, it's good to know he's as repulsive as the story makes him out to be, because that sort of response entitles him to no sympathy whatsoever for any consequences he faces as a result of this.
* For most restaurants, but not for Laura's.
** Actually, they're more than supportive on just this subject. Laura also told me that when foreign tourists tip horribly, management will actually go talk to them, ask if the service was alright, and if they say it was, calmly explain American tipping customs to them. Don't worry if you still wanted to lose faith in humanity, though: "More often than you'd think, people shrug and walk away, or get upset, or cite their nationality as an excuse and leave." So yeah. People are horrible.
Image via KPG Payless2/Shutterstock.