Hitting on people paid to serve you: Is it ever ok?
by Kendal Mint Cake
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine drew my attention to this video.
For those of you who don’t have 6.12mins to spare, it features Alicia Keys playing the role of a waitress at a cafe frequented every Wednesday by a dashing young gent (played by Mos Def, but he doesn’t rap unfortunately) who she is desperate to get to know because he is so fine. It features a little fantasy in which Alicia grows a pair and rings up Mos Def to ask him out. Well anyway, this video got me thinking about the dynamic between the customer and service personnel, and the many ways in which this line can be blurred.
Picture this scenario:
Our young protagonist is dining with friends at the BFI, in the run up to a certain lesbian and gay film festival. A waitress comes over and asks us if we’d like some drinks. Our young protagonist (who isn’t on the shark particularly but is always appreciative of the female form) immediately clocks that this waitress is hot. This, plus the fact they’ve just been at the LLGFF preview and the place is full of gays, puts her on edge. A brilliant dance now ensues, with our protagonist keenly trying to discern the orientation of this waitress, and to distinguish between genuine flirtation and fine customer service. The eye contact is there, and jokes are exchanged. Oops, you’ve brought out two pots of ketchup but no mayonnaise! Then it dawns on her- even if this waitress is hot for girls and herself in particular, she could never bring herself to make a move in this setting because of the unspoken agreement that exists between the customer and the person they are paying. This same etiquette stands when it comes to bar staff, retail assistants & anyone who can’t tell you to jog on because their manager is watching and they want to pay rent this month. There are two points to remember here:
1) They HAVE to talk to you. It is their job.
2) If they flirt with you, you will tip and/or come back. This is beneficial for them.
This may sound obvious, reader, but I think it’s worth reiterating. It is the power balance I’m exploring here- for instance, if the attraction between you and say, that hot barmaid at Dalston Superstore/First Out/some other gay friendly establishment is mutual, you can’t make a move really because you’d seem massively predatory. She’ll have to do it. Or you’ll have to do that frustrating thing of looking over a lot and making it really obvious without actually saying anything and wait for her to get off her shift, which could be 2am and you do have work in the morning. Basically, she has to be FREE to make the CHOICE to talk to you. Otherwise it’s all a bit uncomfortable and you aren’t on equal terms. And don’t managers always hire hotties anyway for this very reason, to keep people coming back to these bars in a weird attempt to make contact with someone they’d never normally have the confidence to talk to?
Another anecdote: our young protagonist used to work in a bookshop as a student every Friday for two years. It came to light at a party, six months after she stopped working in said bookshop, that a girl at this very same party who had never been introduced to our young protagonist, had been coming in on Fridays in a bid to catch their attention. Alas! Bound by the unspoken code between service personnel and customer, our young protagonist had failed to pick up on this out of sheer professionalism. Upon hearing this revelation at the party, freed from her capitalistic shackles and extremely flattered, a whirlwind affair then followed. But oh! It was all too late and their lives had moved too far apart for anything to develop. If the girl had made her intentions clearer at the bookshop, would things have turned out differently? Or would our young protagonist have dismissed these advances because of the scenario?
Is it because we all too rarely speak to people outside our immediate friend/work circles that I overreact when the pretty girl who works at the vegan cafe winks at me, or when the girl on the till laughs sympathetically when I can’t find my debit card and have to count all my small change on the counter in a rush?
I write this having had numerous conversations with friends who work as bar staff or in shops, who spend shift after shift fending off the misplaced advances of some customer who thinks that just because they have an opportunity to speak to you, they may as well try and bed you. This has made me wary about crushing on people who talk to you because they’re paid to.
Or it is all totally ok and I’m just overthinking and letting my staunch moral code get in the way of having a Damn Good Time? Thoughts please.