How One Woman Faced Disturbing Levels Of Harassment Working In Restaurants And Bars

An explosive Financial Times report of the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, self-billed as “the most un-PC event of the year”, has revealed how “tall, thin and pretty” women were recruited as hostesses to serve big names in business.

Undercover reporter Madison Marriage detailed how the women were groped, subjected to lewd comments and invited to the attendee’s bedrooms.

In the wake of the report, the Presidents Club has announced it is to shut down while Great Ormond Street Hospital says it will return donations raised from the event.

However in November, we reported on everyday experiences of sexual harassment at work, including the story of one woman who faced a disturbing levels of harassment working in restaurants and bars.

Natalia Ribbe-Szrok worked in hospitality in London and New York, experiencing disturbing incidents both here and across the Atlantic.

When she was 21 years old, the owner of the restaurant she worked in, a man who she refers to as the “Harvey Weinstein of the New York restaurant industry” repeatedly touch her inappropriately.

The owner, who was about 60, “stuck his fingers inside” Natalia’s shirt and would touch her bottom without consent, she tells HuffPost.

“Because I was a young, 20-something-year-old girl working in the restaurant industry in New York, I didn’t really think much of it because I was watching other women just tolerate it,” she says. “I didn’t feel in a place to really say anything.” 

Natalia adds that the restaurant industry in itself is problematic because of the anti-social hours that staff work and the sociable side to the job can cause problems.

Natalia Ribbe-Szrok

“There is this convivial atmosphere and sometimes that can be misconstrued for flirtation,” Natalia says.

“You want it to be this hospitable environment where you are all best mates. But there is a line and I think a lot of women are afraid to say, ‘actually that’s not cool’.”

And the waters only get murkier when customers – especially those who are inebriated – are thrown into the mix. 

Natalia, 32, who moved to the UK six years ago, says that some customers feel they are entitled to make unwanted advances towards waitressing and bar staff.

“You would get these high-powered (customers).. thinking that you were the waitress and that they could speak to you like you’re nothing.

“It’s little things too, like them calling you ‘sweetie, darling’. It’s the demeaning names, it’s putting the arm around your waist while you’re stood next to the table.

“Or sometimes it’s the discerning looks. You can feel it when you’re standing away from the table and they’re all looking at you.

“That’s the thing, you don’t speak up about it because it seems so small and petty,” Natalia says.

“They are a guest in their restaurant. You’re looking after them but that doesn’t mean they get to do whatever the hell they want.”

While working in a restaurant in Fitzrovia, central London, a customer tried to kiss Natalia before she pushed him away. As he was a regular, Natalia would have to continuously see him following the “awkward” encounter.

“If I’m not engaging with you, why are you forcing yourself on me? Don’t mistake my hospitality as an open invitation to try and touch me,” she says.

In the hospitality sector, staff are even encouraged to flirt with customers in order to get tips, she says: “In New York when I waited on tables we got tips, that’s how we made our money. And you don’t want to upset a table that’s some of your rent.”

Natalia says that there is progress being made in the hospitality industry, but that it’s still an environment fraught with difficulties, due to the nature of the work and anti-social hours.

“It’s gotten better since I started working in the industry,” she says. “There’s more female presence and there’s more women speaking out loud. People aren’t sitting down anymore. They are like ‘no, I will not be spoken to like that’.”