Hi Salty, I work at a large bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I recently had a guest who called me “baby.” I told him my name. He kept calling me baby, over and over again, and would immediately “apologize,” and then say he meant to call me by my name. The woman he was with even reminded him of my name multiple times. In addition, two men sitting next to him heard our interaction and started joking about it.
All three were joking the entire time they were there, kept calling each other baby and sweetie, and then asking the other one if they were offended. They kept doing this very loudly so that I could hear. I ignored all of it. After the couple had finished and paid, the two men spoke with my manager and told him that I ruined their meal. They told me that it was my job to let people call me whatever they want. They said that I had embarrassed the other man and that I was terrible at my job.
I am actually a really great bartender. I truly care about the service people receive. In addition, I make a great living. But it really bothers me when men call me pet names. I felt as though, if I was a man, they wouldn’t have called me baby. My question is, did I overstep my bounds by telling a guest to call me by my name? Should I just not say anything? If the answer is to let it slide, then where do I draw the line?
Not Your Baby
Dear Not Your Baby,
It’s not every day I develop an eye twitch while reading emails. You sat through this bullying—that’s really what it was—with grace, even when other people wouldn’t have. So don’t let these ratbags make you feel one ounce less about your abilities as a bartender.
Now, let me adjust my false eyelash, which has come loose from all the twitching.
Your first question—did you overstep your bounds?—is about limits, and how to work in hospitality without it crushing your soul. We in the hospitality industry know that sometimes doing our jobs means shutting up even when we’d really like to give somebody a piece of our mind. You hear a shitty joke, you let it go. You hear someone talking total b.s. political nonsense, you let it go. It’s about picking your battles. Maybe someone calls you baby once, and you let it go. I’m not advocating for letting customers call you names, but it was probably the fact that you corrected him that made him jump all over you.
If the name-calling persists, though, you definitely have a problem. (In 2019, guys should realize that “baby” isn’t a name strangers appreciate.) If you corrected him once, in a friendly way—“You can call me Dorothy, actually, if you need anything”—he should have moved on. Customers are paying for good service, not the chance to tease and talk down to bartenders. What those guys did was bully you. They saw that something bothered you, and they kept going, like kids on a playground. Like mom always said, their behavior says more about them than it does about you.
This is where, if I was you, I would have brought in my manager. You could probably tell the situation wasn’t going well, and it might have been better for everyone involved if you could separate yourself from these guys. Hopefully your manager would have your back, and since it’s a big bar, maybe they could have swapped you with another (male) bartender, or better yet, told all three guys to knock off the baby talk.
Only you can decide where the line is for you regarding pet names. Personally, if a customer offhandedly called me baby, I wouldn’t appreciate it, but if it was a one-time deal, I might let it slide. If the customer did it repeatedly, and was obviously doing it to purposefully bother me or intimidate me, then that’s crossing a line into bullying and harassment. I don’t stand for that no way no how, so that’s where I’d bring in back-up, a.k.a. my manager. Talk with your manager about how they expect you to handle this in the future, so you know what to do next time. And when customers cross the line from birdbrain to bully, you’re always right to stick up for yourself.
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