Tag Archives: waitresses

Image gallery: insulting waitresses

waitressinsultJudging from postcards and cartoons, the early 20th century was not a fun time to be a waitress. However hard working, competent, or skilled in dealing with demanding situations they may have been [see recent op-ed on how much skill serving takes], there was no recognition of that in popular images.

Quite the contrary. The images were of two basic types. Either female servers were shown as incompetent or as objects of fantasy who were open to the sexual advances of their customers.

waitressflirting

All but two of these images in this post are from 1906 to about 1915. The gum chewer is from the 1920s.

waitressspillingwaitressbeingkissedwaitress&Lecher

waitress1908BeaneryButeThe reasons for these degrading images could be many. Joke-style postcards were designed to get men to send postcards, an activity that they were less inclined to do than were women. Almost all joke postcards derived humor from insulting others, whether women, Blacks, immigrants, or the poor. On several of the cards in the post, the women illustrated are Irish immigrants, a status that was generally portrayed as both stupid and ugly. Women who were in the public eye, such as actresses, department store clerks, or restaurant workers, were evidently considered fair game, possibly out of resentment that they strayed outside the realm of church and home or because they appeared in public without male protection.

waitressstockings1946Later postcards mostly dropped the theme of incompetence but images of sexy bimbo waitresses persisted for decades, as for example on this postcard mailed in 1946.

© Jan Whitaker, 2015

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“Adult” restaurants

Anyone who knows American culture realizes immediately that the term “adult restaurant” would not even remotely imply an eating place that caters to mature or developed culinary tastes. Instead it would mean one deemed inappropriate for children because of some kind of sexually tinged goings on.

Historically the attractions in adult restaurants have not been what’s on the plate but are part of the female servers’ anatomy.

An unfamiliar restaurant concept to me is the “adult fast food restaurant.” This is how a Florida drive-in owner referred to his business in 1976. It didn’t serve adult fast food – what would that be? Crêpes? It served hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, and, oddly, wine. The manager called it “our answer to MacDonald’s,” reflecting the fierce competition drive-ins faced from big chains in the 1970s.

The “adult” aspect: servers at the “Jugs ‘n’ Suds” drive-in were costumed only in hot pants and tassles.

However, Jugs ‘n’ Suds waitresses got very little chance to “wear” their intended costume. The drive-in met with vehement disapproval from citizens and officials of New Port Richey who insisted that the waitresses cover up. One of the restaurant’s promoters admitted that business fell off once apron-like halter tops were adopted, saying “People aren’t as interested in seeing a topless waitress with fringe on.” [pictured] In very short order the drive-in closed. A second one – without carhops — then opened in an old A&W. I don’t think it lasted long. A fantasized  nationwide chain never materialized.

Jugs ‘n’ Suds was unusual in that it was a drive-in. Most topless restaurants have been positioned at the “nightclub” end of the restaurant spectrum. Typically they’ve been dark, bar-like spaces where business men congregate at noon and after work.

California was the birthplace of the topless restaurant with the pioneers opening in 1965 not long after the creation of Rudi Gernrich’s topless bathing suit. Many offered a business man’s lunch special accompanied by models strolling from table to table. In California, at Long Beach’s Kozy Kitten, kittens ambled while patrons downed 98c luncheons of Turkey, Ham, or Beef served with Potato Salad and Beans. (I didn’t say topless restaurants were glamorous.)

The topless restaurant fad, which combined gawking, drinking, AND eating, died out, but using women’s anatomy to attract restaurant patrons did not. Maybe it’s eternal. Even as the last Playboy bunny club closed in the 1988, a new crop of “breastaurants” (as they are mockingly known by critics) appeared, most of them flaunting scantily dressed servers. Following the success of Hooters, a slew of knock-offs opened in Florida, among them the so preciously named Melons, Knockers, and Mugs & Jugs.

Controversy is also eternal. Hooters’ aggressively suggestive advertising campaign has offended many and the chain was forced to remove billboards that hinted servers were prostitutes, an idea that, depressingly, has plagued female servers since the 19th century.

Legal challenges to topless restaurants and breastaurants have mostly not held up. But communities protest them anyway, occasionally successfully. Recently the Quincy MA Licensing Board denied permission to a unit of the Tilted Kilt chain because it was too close to a church that objected.

© Jan Whitaker, 2012

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Filed under drive-ins, food, women

Waitress uniforms: bloomers

The bicycling craze of the mid-1890s brought “wheelwomen” dressed in bloomers into public view. It didn’t take long for enterprising restaurant men to latch onto the sensational pants-like garment as a waitress uniform. It was the middle of a nationwide depression and they hoped that male customers would flock to their establishments and the money would pour in. And this proved true, sort of.

Bloomers were originally a pragmatic garment of the 1850s woman’s rights movement intended to permit women to conduct everyday affairs without dragging 50 pounds of skirts and petticoats over filthy floors and streets. They were designed to do this by raising the skirt hem up to the shoe tops — with long gathered trousers worn underneath to modestly hide the ankles. But because of relentless ridicule, prior to the bicycle craze they had been worn only in private or in exceptional situations: doing gymnastics, while housecleaning, or by Westward-bound women crossing prairies and mountains.

The bloomers worn by female cyclists in the 1890s were more daring than those of the 1850s because they ended just below the knee, revealing stocking-covered calves and ankles. When “waiter girls” (as waitresses were known then) wore them, crowds of men gathered on sidewalks outside restaurants, jostling for a view. Although some restaurant owners claimed that bloomers were more practical than long dresses, it was pretty clear that most were motivated by a wish for publicity.

The bloomer uniform typically consisted of full-cut navy, brown, or black serge pants gathered at waist and knees and worn with a short matching vest (pictured on San Francisco waitresses) or “Zouave” jacket, and a colored blouse with leg o’mutton sleeves. Often the outfit was accessorized with black stockings, patent leather slippers, and caps imprinted with the restaurant’s name.

The first restaurant to adopt the fascinatingly curious uniform, in 1895, was the Bloomer Café in San Francisco. It was rapidly followed by restaurants in St. Louis and NYC. In 1896 and 1897 a few more opened in NYC, in Oakland CA, Chicago, and — gasp! — Boston. The police immediately closed the Chicago café on moral grounds. But they all seem to have been short-lived, usually because the crowds stopped coming once the sensationalism wore off.

Waitresses sometimes balked at bloomers because they feared they would be “on exhibit” and treated crudely by male patrons. Those who did agree to wear them, under threat of losing their jobs, reported that although they missed the “swish” factor of layers of starched skirts, they liked the new style because it enabled them to move quickly without trailing hems to get stepped on or slammed in doors.

Restaurant bloomers were an interesting example of a style crossing under coercion from one social class to another. Bloomers were seen as symbolic of the “new woman” – a decidedly privileged, well-educated, independent-minded daughter of the middle class. The new woman loved riding bicycles and engaging in sports. Working class women, by contrast, did not typically ride bicycles, play tennis or golf, or exercise in gyms. More than one bloomer waitress disclosed upon being interviewed that she had never been on a bicycle.

By 1898 the restaurant bloomer fad was over, but the idea of dressing waitresses in eye-catching costumes was only beginning.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

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Taste of a decade: 1920s restaurants

The 1920s is an important decade because it marked the birth of the modern restaurant industry. The advent of national prohibition stripped away liquor profits, shifting emphasis to low-price, high-volume food service. More people ate out than ever before. Restaurant owners formed professional associations to raise industry standards, counter organized labor, and lobby for their interests. Famous pre-war restaurants closed, while cafeterias, luncheonettes, and tea rooms thrived. Female servers began to replace men. Restaurant chains incorporated and were listed on the stock exchange. While critics bemoaned the demise of fine dining, the newborn industry and its patrons celebrated simple, home-style, “American” fare.

Highlights

1920 After a strike of 1,100 cooks and waiters in Chicago, the Congress Hotel hires a crew of waitresses. – Milwaukee restaurateurs report that Sunday has become their biggest day because of families eating out.

1921 A character in Alexander Black’s novel The Seventh Angel observes, “Life is just one damned restaurant after another,” then asks plaintively, “Is there any home-eating any more?” – A restaurant trade magazine reports that half of all restaurant meals in Los Angeles are sold in cafeterias and other self-service eateries. – In New York City, a former “lobster palace,” Murray’s Roman Gardens, advertises sodas and candy in its Ice Cream Salon.

1922 The International Association of Hotel Stewards endorses the elimination of French terms on menus.

1924 A brochure from the B/G Sandwich Shop chain boasts of “Food selected and prepared as in your American home; served by the sort of people you find at home, – high class ambitious young Americans who do not desire to submit to the European custom of depending upon the master’s gratuities.” – Cafeteria chain manager Harry Boos, president of the National Restaurant Association, declares: “Men and women want their goods quick and clean. The restaurant business is a greater industry than ever before in history.” – “Quick and Clean” is also the slogan of the White Cafeteria in Indianapolis.

1925 After the closure of his once-celebrated NYC nightspot restaurant “Jack’s,” owner John Dunstan complains “The town’s full of cafeterias.” – Henri Mouquin’s famed French restaurant is demolished to make room for a Princeton Cafeteria.

1926 The Cordleyware Co. advertises that its champagne buckets for restaurants can be used as carriers for soiled silverware.

1927 The journal Restaurant Management reports that from 25% to 30% of all meals in cities are eaten in restaurants and that close to 60% of restaurant patrons are women. – A restaurant of the Happiness Candy Stores chain opens on the Fifth Avenue site once occupied by Delmonico’s.

1928 In recognition of the growing number of women in the restaurant business, the American Restaurant journal begins a special section called “The Restaurant Woman.” – Chicago’s corned beef sandwich mogul, John P. Harding, known for catering exclusively to men, opens a restaurant especially for women.

1929 A restaurant trade magazine editorial asserts that the industry has finally won respectability. There is, it notes, “tremendous change in popular feeling toward a business once thought precarious – as well as beneath consideration, socially.”

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; 1970 to 1980

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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