Sexism in the Bar Industry

The image of groping male hands blindly harassing a female bartender might be outdated, but that doesn’t mean that sexism within the bar industry is no longer a problem. This much is clear: the topic is complex. In the year 2016, MIXOLOGY ONLINE takes stock of the current situation.

Giffard Alkoholfrei

Earlier this year Steve Schneider published a call for waiters for the Singapore branch of Employees Only, with this he managed to ignite a passionate discussion around sexism within the bar community. It was worded as follows: “Not just a Boys Club. One of New York City’s most iconic bars, Employees Only, is launching its first international location in Singapore. We are looking for badass cocktail waitresses and supervisors to join our team!”.

Many felt strongly about this poorly worded posting, and soon questions like “Why aren’t women being considered as bartenders? Why do they immediately get stuck within a waitress role?” were posed. Things took a turn for the worse when Dushan Zaric responded to the critique with the following Facebook post: “If you ever feel that the world owes you anything – therapy is a great way to heal that wound. We are all hurting – one way or the other”.


While this might be true, it completely ignores the problematic that the job post raised and we should all be aware that the amount of distinguished male bartenders is most definitely higher than those of female ones. Dismissing the issue with the rather condescending “we all have our little ailments” attitude is simply irresponsible. In that moment, Zaric chose to turn his back on the subject and neglected his responsibility towards both his business and its female employees.

One didn’t have to wait long for the boycott. People called out to boycott both the Employees Only bar as well as The 86 Co. – bar and spirits company share owners. Zaric effectively stepped down from The 86 Co. and shortly afterwards, bar greats like Gaz Regan came to his defense. Dust settled around the subject and both the trigger situation and the primary issue were quickly laid to rest. Although in the States initial approaches to combat the question of equality are being tackled, in Europe the issue remains dormant. The US is home to events like the Collaborative Brew Day for women, as well as the Speed Rack competition, which is only open to female bartenders. Unfortunately, Speed Rack’s branding is kept in rose-colored hues – apparently girls really do love pink.

One would be hard pressed to find organizations like this in the German-speaking countries. Once a year female bartenders come together under the banner of “Weltbarfrauentag” (around International Women’s Day) to engage with the topic of equality behind the counter, as well as for a good cause. Then you’ve also got the Bartenderin bar school, which unfortunately isn’t very well known. Both of these initiatives are laudable und should be receiving more press. Female bartenders are not a niche interest.


In June of this year the Tales of the Cocktail blog tackled this very question and confronted its readers with some rage-inducing facts. The wage gap is our current reality, according to a study released by the Economic Policy Institute women, on average, earn $12.17 per hour to their male counterpart’s $13.88. In 2014 only 3% of the Canadian applicants to Diageo’s World Class competition were female. Three percent! Can we all just close our eyes for a moment and picture this? Turns out, not too difficult. I’m pretty sure that over the last few months, most readers will have seen pictures of many cocktail competitions on this very site. And the winners, or rather the bulk of the competitors, were they male or female? What strikes any keen observer immediately? That’s right, for every ten men we have about one woman. If even that.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got sexual harassment. Most of us are aware that women have to deal with more harassment than men (from their employers as well as guests). “According to a report from the Restaurant Opportunity Center, nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the [hospitality] industry – at more than 5 times the rate for the general female workforce”. This is no longer just a problem, this is what one can call an epidemic – one that is merrily forgotten and thus ignored by all the glorious liquid consumption. During his lecture at this year’s P(our)-Symposium at the Paris-based Cocktail Spirits Jim Meehan, one of the world’s most renowned bartenders and an industry pioneer, pointed out his concern about some pretty gruesome realities: openly expressed sexism and an excess of violence against women belong to the bar industry’s day-to-day. Considerably harsh words spoken by a man who’s equally known for his sharp tongue as he is for his restraint and deliberate, well thought-out approach.


Diversity, relating to both skin color and sex, might just be the word of the year. Women are often symbolically used for their diversity factor. However, if you have ten people competing in a cocktail competition, and one of them is a woman, don’t you dare call that a success. In no way should anyone be proud of this “diversity showcase”, seeing as it’s a sole 10%. According to the World Bank, 51% of the German population is female. Shouldn’t these number be reflected in the workforce?

While researching this article, many female bartenders told me about this one specific compliment they’d hear from their male colleagues over and over again. Basically, male colleagues would describe them as “more manly than we are”. This obviously filled with them pride, a fact that I find troublesome: Why is the status quo male? Why is it “better” to be a male bartender? Why is it a compliment, to tell a woman she’s “just like a dude”? To have the biggest “cojones”? Female bartenders shouldn’t be forced to “act like a man” in order to be taken seriously. Femininity and a serious reputation amongst colleagues should not exclude one another.

On the other hand, female bartenders who don’t see a problem within the industry certainly exist. Those, who never received the shorter end of the stick due to their sex. On the contrary even: Isabella Lombardo (of Vienna’s Procacci) tells me “I feel like you have a little more leeway to respond to rude customers as a woman. I’ve often responded to badly behaved guests with as much cheek as they showed me. Had I been a man, I’m sure that many situations could have escalated.”


Still, nothing hides the fact that women earn less and aren’t represented nearly as much as men are within the industry. Several weeks ago I spoke to Cristal Jane Peck, she’s the manager at Berlin’s craft beer shop Bierlieb. She told me how she’s often ignored by customers or how they actively search for someone else to help them, after she’s offered her assistance in choosing a beer. Even in liberal Berlin the thought of “women know nothing about beer” still exists. How is that possible? It’s the year 2016, aren’t we all a little smarter than that? Aren’t we more informed? Hope may be the last thing to die, but mine is currently at an all-time low.

In my personal opinion the systematic sexism within the industry can only be remedied with an ‘over correction’. Female bartenders need to be hired more, this doesn’t necessarily include the always problematic ‘quota’, but I’d rather have it be seen as a new perspective by those responsible. And this goes far beyond the gastronomic field, other industries are fighting the same problem. There’s no getting around new rules and concepts, perhaps not in the neighborhood bar with three employees, but rather the huge hotel cooperations and similar firms who have the means to make a statement and set an example. Some men might feel like the rug is being pulled out from under them and I expect to hear cliches like “may the better man win”. That’s right, however: may the better man or woman win. And I’ll happily discuss that one we’ve established an even playing field.


Foto: Photo via Shutterstock.

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