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Women who wait: Why waitresses in India is still a rare sight


You may have adored Rachel Green in the much-loved American sitcom Friends, but would you do the job of a waitress? Uh-oh! “The general disrespect for wait staff is a culture and class issue because we expect servitude from them, not service,” says NRAI president Riyaaz Amlani, offering part of the reason stewardesses are almost invisible at restaurants in India.

Despite society’s outlook, 25-year-old Suchita Diwale, who works at Mamagoto’s Kala Ghoda outlet in Mumbai, took it up after being rejected by airlines over her height. “I don’t care about what people think. I know what the work is like.” Four-and-half-years ago, she started out as a hostess at Indigo Deli, where she later took to waitressing before moving to Mamagoto, where her performance led to a promotion as a floor manager.

This kind of growth is exactly what Seronica Colasso likes about waitressing. “Many girls don’t want to pick up jhoota plates or wipe tables after guests, but working as a hostess was very boring. Waitressing allows you to learn about food and beverages, get tips and increments in six months if you work well,” says the 33-year-old who’s with The Pantry, Mumbai. Before this, Colasso passed off a good offer by British Brewing Company because they required her to work late. “They didn’t discriminate though I’m a woman, and were willing to give me a drop, but my husband is strictly against it. My in-laws are supportive, but you know how society thinks…”

Liana D’Silva (name changed), who’s been recruiting for five-star hotels and upmarket restaurants for the last five years, says, “Earlier, people thought if you work in hospitality, stalkers will follow you, torture you…” Whether it’s genuine concern, conservative attitude or fear of society, night shifts are a problem for many women, making them less desirable for restauranteurs, whose business picks up at night. “A few years ago, the court passed an order that women mustn’t be made to work post 10pm and where they do, employers must arrange a drop. It led to a seven per cent decline in hiring of women,” recalls Parijat Borse an F&B industry recruiter. “But the number is rising again.”

Hospitality, Borse says, has been a very oppressive industry. “Traditionally, hospitality graduates weren’t treated well. Hours are long and the pay is low. So convincing women was even more difficult.” Most shifts are for nine hours, and extend by an hour on busy days. Before the court’s order, on days Diwale worked night shifts at Indigo Deli, she’d start at 6.30pm and finish by 2am, but would leave only by 4am, when it was safe to return to Mankhurd. “Mumbai is quite liberal, down south and in Delhi, forget waitresses, it was difficult to get hostesses,” says Borse. Considering starting salaries for stewards, which requires clearing HSC, is about Rs 7,000 (tips fetch about Rs 6,000), many prefer working at call centres, that pay much more. Women comprise only about 20 per cent of hospitality graduates, says Borse. As stewardesses are hard to find, they sometimes get paid better than men.

than men, but D’Silva’s experience has been that “after 6 months, women move to airlines, guest relations, etc and qualified ones go abroad. With few women among the men, customers notice every time they leave or are replaced. It creates a bad image.” High attrition is the reason that though Mihir Desai, co-owner of The Bar Stock Exchange chain, believes women “are more focused and organised”. He’s got waitresses only at his Bandra outlet. As per Borse, employers largely hire 18 – 25 year-olds, who agree to lower pay and more work. “As a spinster, I could get a job in two minutes, but not after the nine-month gap post my son’s birth,” recalls Colasso.

From manager, she demoted herself to a hostess. “In my first job after the baby, employers didn’t promote me for three years despite my quality of work and the longer hours I put, because I refused night shifts.” urants — Hard Rock Café, Irish House, Copper Chimney — have one or two waitresses. The game changers, Borse says, were quick-service restaurants like Burger King, Mc Donald’s (its crew has 30 per cent women). “They brought a work culture of equal opportunity employment (EOE), mandated by law in their home countries.” The burst of standalones has also had an impact. “A lot of new restauranteurs are professionals from various sectors, who’ve been groomed not to discriminate,” says Borse. Standalone restaurant chains also offer growth opportunities, making hospitality lucrative, says Amlani and adds: “NRAI has been doing a lot of dignity campaigning with workshops on EOE and non-harassment.”

Happy with The Pantry’s respectful and friendly atmosphere, Colasso is confident they’ll let her grow. Diwale, who liked her Indigo Deli experience, appreciates how Mamagoto’s owners personally meet the staff. Both are positive that in time, we’ll see more stewardesses.

Source: DNA India

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