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December 01, 2009

Clothes Make the Cocktail Waitress

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Is it okay for a Down Syndrome victim to pilot the airliner you are about to board? You're not bothered if you son's career goal is Axe Murderer? And it's fine if a doctor with really shaky hands is about to perform brain surgery on you?

One of the distortions being perpetrated on our society is that people have the right to hold jobs even if that goes against the best interest of employers or even society at large.

I suspect all of you are not okay with the items noted in the first paragraph. So clearly there are limits to personal desire satisfaction in the job market. In other words, nearly all people probably agree that the right to a job is conditional, despite the "equal opportunity" onslaught of the past 40 years or so. The problem / issue / debate is where lines get drawn.

What prompts this post is some of the cocktail waitresses I noticed at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas last week. A number of them were elderly or well on the way there. That is, elderly compared to the typical Vegas cocktail waitress whose age seems south of 30. One waitress appeared to be pushing 60 really hard and a couple of others looked to be about 50.

All were wearing the standard Mirage skimpy cocktail waitress uniform. This, to me, was the greatest problem. Push-up bras and high-thigh garment cuts are not flattering to most women over age 50 or so.

There are two issues here. One is the appropriate age range for Las Vegas cocktail waitresses -- the women who deal with drink orders for gamblers at their tables and slot machines. Casinos clearly prefer to have a waitress staff comprised of young (18 to 30 or maybe 35-year-old) women who are of average weight or less for their height and otherwise are "pleasant" looking or prettier. This probably enhances drink sales at the margin. I suppose casinos tend to think that women older than 45 or 50 seem too "motherly" or have simply lost their looks -- the assumption here is that sales will be lost on the margin where waitresses are older.

The second issue, as I see it, is attire appropriateness. We older folks have bodies that sag, wrinkle, bulge and have other unattractive features. Which is why we wisely don't usually wear skimpy clothing. So it seems to me that the Mirage, having chosen to employ over-45 cocktail waitresses, would be doing both waitresses and customers a service by having an alternative uniform that is much more modest. For example, slacks to cover aging legs and tops showing a bit less cleavage would do.

The comment thread to this ought to be fun. (Name-calling comments might never see the light of the Internet, however; so be thoughtful, please.)



posted by Donald at December 1, 2009


I could see a market for motherly cocktail waitresses! Of course they'd need a proper uniform for it.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on December 2, 2009 12:05 AM

While I've run up against age discrimination and am mightily upset by it, this scenario is simply common sense. Politically incorrect of course, but practical and completely fine by me.

Posted by: susan on December 2, 2009 9:51 AM

A skimpy cocktail waitress uniform is OK on a 50+ year old woman. Don't you know that a woman can be sexy at any age? Any man who prefers a slender young woman in such an outfit, with her smooth legs, pert bosom, and shiny hair is obviously a sexist, and has mindlessly bought into the oppressive norms of our male-dominated society that only values a womyn for her looks.

Posted by: Sgt. Joe Friday on December 2, 2009 10:20 AM

Years ago, I had a similar conversation with some Singaporeans on this topic. We were discussing the comparative merits of various airlines, and one of the Singaporeans couldn't understand why United Airlines has all these stewardesses who "looked like his mother". He mentioned how Singapore Airlines only hires attractive women as stewardesses, and when they reach a certain age they are forced out of the stewardess job. They aren't fired, but simply given another job in the airline. Sounds like a reasonable and humane policy to me.

Singapore Airlines COACH class is superior to BUSINESS class in any American airline company I've ever flown. United Airlines seems to have all these overweight "surly Shirleys" who are busting out of their polyester pants!

Posted by: Wade Nichols on December 2, 2009 10:51 AM

I have no doubt the casino would prefer to have nothing but young, slender or zaftig cocktail waitresses (am I supposed to say waitpersons?). And their lawyers have probably told them "equal opportunity" laws mean they have to hire a wheelchair-bound great grandmother if she can serve a drink without spilling it.

Anti-discrimination laws, if understood and enforced sanely, are reasonable. For example, while most men would favor pretty flight attendants in the bloom of youth, the flight attendant is a professional, especially in an emergency.

Even in normal operations, problems arise from time to time that an older flight attendant with more experience is better capable of handling. So age discrimination has no legitimate place in the airline cabin. And the same is true for many occupations.

But let's face it: there are some jobs that are essentially part of the entertainment world, where youth and attractiveness are one of the qualities the customer wants and pays for.

I've never misbehaved with a waitress, but on those occasions -- in some not completely feminist-drenched part of the country -- when a waitress has given me a little "goodbye" squeeze on the shoulder as she handed me the check, it made me happy for the moment. I knew perfectly well it wasn't because she fancied me, that it was in quest of a better tip, but still … it was one of the minutiae that ease life's path.

If male customers at the casino want to be served booze by young hotties, hey, that's life. (And if practicable, there's no reason female customers shouldn't be attended by equally hot-looking young men.)

As to your other point — that more-mature women aren't best served by being made to wear vanishingly small costumes — of course. But if the management covered up more of their flesh, wouldn't that be insulting and demeaning to them, implying they are less pleasurably viewable than their junior colleagues? It might even be considered — wait for it — discrimination!

This is the kind of fallout you get with "anti-discrimination" laws that force us to pretend everyone is the same.

Posted by: Rick Darby on December 2, 2009 11:44 AM

Well, if you are a casino and you prefer younger waitresses, but aren't allowed to require it, how better to keep the older applicants away than to require a humiliating costume?

Posted by: dave.s. on December 2, 2009 12:44 PM

You are completely right and i agree with the fact that:
people have the right to hold jobs even if that goes against the best interest of employers or even society at large.

Posted by: oes tsetnoc on December 2, 2009 2:06 PM

It's also possible there's a labor shortage. Maybe all the 19 year olds are working in strip clubs where they make more money. Or, possibly, the managers prefer to deal with older women who are more professional and less flaky than the younger girls. If that's the case than you need to send the managers a message by boycotting those establishments.

Posted by: Peter A on December 3, 2009 11:48 AM

Write the owner a letter saying you and your friends will no longer patronize his establishment because it resembles an old folks' home. Say you don't care to be served by a short-skirted women the same age as your grandmother. Or, treat this as a charming typically bizarre cultural custom, and leave it at that.

Posted by: Sean A on December 3, 2009 4:56 PM

"...the women who deal with drink orders for gamblers at their tables and slot machines... This probably enhances drink sales at the margin."

What sales? Drinks are free for gamblers. Of course the service isn't exactly snappy. Ask for a beer, get a 7oz glass of Miller in 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, you're feeding the one armed bandit. It could be the most expensive beer you'll ever drink.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on December 4, 2009 8:09 PM

An older woman should not be compelled to wear the attire of younger women. It offends the eye, and any discerning adult's aesthetic sense. The best waitress uniforms I know of consist of white blouses and black skirts. That's all. The waitresses decide what is suitable for themselves, tight skirt or full; a fitted blouse or a loose one; a high neck or a plunging one. Given the chance, older women can look far more handsome than younger ones.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on December 4, 2009 8:48 PM

"There are two issues here..."

Interesting. The two issues I would have perceived are poverty and economic depression.

Posted by: David Fleck on December 5, 2009 8:49 AM

Surely none of the women servers "approaching a certain age" were hired when they were young and attractive. None have spent years learning their craft, working their way up through the ranks, proving themselves honest, capable, employees. It obviously takes little talent or experience to take drink orders in a noisy, frenetic, environment from multiple customers, navigate the crowds to and from the service bar, return orders to the right patrons in a timely fashion, collect payment or keep running tabs, schmooze with the gregarious, flirt with the flirtatious, calm the aggressive losers, and charm the winners into remaining at the tables or slots until the house recovers. Nope, all you need are youthful good looks with tits and ass well displayed, and "Shazam!" you're perfect for the job.

Posted by: Chris White on December 5, 2009 11:08 AM

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