Girl on Girls

Tending Bar in a Catty Workplace Environment

Photo Credit: Amberleigh Storms

I was in my late 20’s and when it came to being objectified I still had it going on. Long, dirty blonde hair swept across my shoulders. I was slim, curvy and cut. My smile — convincing. It was an era when flat chested and braless was all the rage.

I was also a single mother, working toward a grad degree at NAU, recently stationed at the AZ Guard Joint Forces Base at Papago under a new MOS, living off base with no allowance and freshly panic stricken over how I would now support my family on a Guardsmen’s microscopic pay.

It had only been six months since I left my children’s father who had left us with zero dollars due to spending every penny he could scrounge on heroin.

I was basically fucked.

I needed a job. I also needed to pull time out of my ass in order to accomplish it all, and I needed to travel from one place to another throughout the day dependent on public transportation.

I decided the best thing to do was to find a job near Papago or school, any job that paid enough money to cover the bills and feed my kids. At this point in my life a “career” was last on my list of things I gave a shit about investing myself in.

It was the employment section in the Phoenix New Times where I saw an ad for bartender/server needed, apply in person, start immediately located a few blocks from Papago. I’d never bartended or waited tables. Con. My idea of being social was asking you to stop talking to me. Con. I could walk there in five minutes, work flexible hours and leave each shift with cash in hand. Triple Pro.

I envisioned work in a bar/ grill being mindless and easy going. My bad. It was physically demanding. When I wasn’t running my ass off I was sorting, cleaning and restocking because if i didn’t, I would die when the next tidal wave rushed through. Opening entailed two hours of prep work in the kitchen. Closing entailed two hours of scrubbing.

It was emotionally stressful as well. There’s nothing like engaging with a bazillion people in a four to six hour time frame while drowning in total chaos to suck every ounce of life from your soul. However, none of that compared to the stress of the catty group of girls I had to work with.

I remember the second shift I worked because it was the first time I was bullied by another employee. Apparently she had worked there longer than me and should have been scheduled behind the bar and not some newbie who had only trained for six hours. The bartender was lead for the shift.

I don’t react well to being torn down so instead I don’t react at all. Just doing what my boss told me, I responded. The only sentence I spoke during her five minutes of bashing me, a person she had just met 20 minutes prior.

I kind of thought she was psycho. I definitely thought she was someone with serious (and unaddressed) issues until two days after when I was verbally assaulted by another employee for being taken off training after one shift and already earning tips. The standard policy was six training shifts and therefore I was directly stealing money from her. If I were training she would’ve gotten all the tip money.

I felt confident this was the workplace theme after another employee talked shit to me. Unprepared for yet another attack, I utilized my social skill of — Stop talking to me, spoken in body language and not words.

If I lived in Fantasy Land I would be able to say, I talked to the manager and he worked it all out! Yay! But I don’t, and that’s not even remotely close to what transpired.

There were two owners and one manager, all male. Some men do actually fall into the modern day stereotypical male role that’s hated by women. These guys were three of them, though I didn’t hate them. We had this sort of — kind of like, sometimes hate thing going.

One of the owners was drunk all the time and a totally rude dickhead. He disliked me because I had no problem telling him how it was but he’d never let me go because I was good at making them money. The other owner didn’t like me either, but not for the same reason. He strongly disagreed with my, You can’t tell me any different attitude. Women were meant to be seen, not heard and my boundaries could be heard like a megaphone.

The manager and I are still friends. It’s a curious concept that if you like enough good qualities in a person that you can accept the ones that are unquestionably lame. He’s that person to me. At the time, while I played the role of employee and he played the role of boss he made it coherently known he had no intention of handling it.

Women are catty, he said. Just let ’em battle it out until they tired of it.

I was on my own. It was sink or swim, do or die, stoop to their level or not.

In the 11 years I worked there I witnessed (and broke up) cat fights, hair pulling, name calling, objects flying and screaming matches among employees that typically took place in front of patrons. Then there was the most evil battle tactic of all — sweet to your face, knife in your back. They were the best of friends, and also bloodthirsty and vindictive.

It was the same old thing, always over money, shifts and turning tables, and I had no time for their crap. I just wanted to come to work, do my job and leave with cash. I wasn’t there to make friends and I definitely wasn’t there for the drama.

Surprisingly the turnover rate was fairly low. There were few rotating spots where newcomers would come and go. Only the thick skinned stayed. The core employees remained working there for years unless they did something so drastic they were fired. I was never certain if it was because the owners had a high threshold for bullshit or if they turned a blind eye, or were too drunk to care.

The food service industry is a team effort but it was clear no one was interested in or capable of working as a team. Looking back now I wonder how I survived as long as I did.

These catty girls were all physically beautiful but each had some train wreck saga going on in their personal lives. It sucked going to work in a toxic environment but the money was too good to bail and the job itself fit onto my full plate like a missing puzzle piece.

If I were to stay I’d have to buck up and set boundaries, and that’s what I did. What I learned by doing so is that I was viewed as intimidating by the other girls for refusing to participate in cattiness. I wouldn’t listen to their back stabbing, shit talk about each other. When I put my foot down they cowered to my face and hated me behind my back.

I killed them with kindness and understanding and they reacted confused. I never thought or acted as if I were better than them but I did keep to myself and never once spent time with them outside of the time clock. I didn’t want to. My personal life was personal and my job was a means to an end.

In the end hard work and loyalty did not earn loyalty in return. During my 11th year working there I got sick and needed surgery. The recovery period meant six weeks off of work. The manager even came to visit me in the hospital and called every few days to check on me once I was home.

The time had come and I was ready to return to work. I was told I was scheduled to come in that Friday. As soon as I arrived I discovered it was the only day I was scheduled to work. All of those years I had invested earned me one shift in a two week pay period.

I walked out and never looked back. In the time I worked there I had finished college with a PhD, been discharged from the Army, bought a house and had work/ life balance mastered.

Admittedly, my feelings were a bit hurt. I knew the manager wasn’t punishing me for being sick but I also knew he didn’t stick up for me when the catty girls bullied him into giving them my shifts.

My kids were bitter too. Quitting my job meant no more free cheese fries.

As for the catty girls, several of them sent me friend requests on Facebook after I was gone. I declined every one of them.

I blog to stay sane.

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