Dressed in black knee-high boots, tight black pants and an even tighter black leather belt, I finish brushing the brown, cropped wig that conceals my short black dreads. A tan corduroy hat complements the suede tank top that contains my mountainous bust. I'm lacking in the cleavage department, but I've used my secret weapon -- a roll of duct tape. It'll give me the extra boost I need.
I walk out of my apartment and immediately take short, restrained breaths. "Why did I have to choose today?" I wonder as I trudge through the slush toward a small downtown watering hole that shall remain nameless.
Inside, I undo my coat. Showtime. The tape shifts on my chest and I feel like walking out. At any moment gravity may win its battle with the tape, launching my breasts out of my disguise. "Hi," I say to the young male bartender, attempting a sultry voice. "I'm here to apply for a bartending or serving position."
I can barely keep a straight face. He finally looks up at me and says, "Yeah, I'll go get the manager." As I sit at the bar, middle-aged men sipping draft repeatedly glance my way. When the manager arrives, he looks me up and down and firmly shakes my hand. "I have three other girls training on Monday," he says. "Would you be able to come in?"
"Sure." No questions asked about my relevant experience -- my Smart Serve training or my bartending licence. I guess the only two qualifications I need are inside my tank top. I tell him he can reach me over the weekend on my cellphone, say goodbye and walk out with a job -- which makes me sick.
Almost as sick as I was last December when I applied for a coat-check position at a popular nightclub. Sure, it was coat check, but I wanted to mention I had a bartending certificate and maybe jump behind one of the many bars scattered throughout the dance den. But the bald, burly man who interviewed me that night warned me otherwise. He said management preferred bartenders with light eyes and huge breasts. This brown-eyed girl wasn't going to make the cut unless I got coloured contacts and stuffed my C cups. Or even more drastic, subjected myself to breast augmentation (costing more than $5,000).
My blunt informant told me that several girls who worked at the club had chosen the enhancement option. Management encouraged them to go under the knife because they would make more money -- it was an investment. "It's not that I agree with it," my interviewer said. "It's just that the owners find these qualities more attractive. The girls make more tips if they look good, and the club makes more money."
Former Fez Batik bartender Heather Girling tells me she lined up for hours with hundreds of applicants for a job at the Docks last summer. "They took our photos so they could attach them to our resumés," she says. "There was definitely a look they were going for," says Girling, who got the job but was so turned off by the application process that she decided to stay at Fez Batik. That women are hired because of their breast size doesn't surprise her. "I have friends who've gotten implants because they thought they'd make more money."
Before she started working at Fez, the 5-foot-1 blond says she believes she was often overlooked for jobs because of her height. "A lot of managers feel that taller people can man the bar better," she says, "because people can see what the bartenders are doing."
But not everyone in the business agrees that beauty trumps experience. The Dock's human resources rep, Joanne Muldoon, says that when they hire, "the first thing we look for is experience, then personality, and then we want to see if you're a team player, and the last thing would be looks.'
And according to Vic Miller, founder of the Bartending School of Ontario, "Confidence and knowledge are the most important qualities a bartender can have. T&A only works short term. Eventually, guys get wise and see through you," says Miller. "Then you make no money." Some bartenders may start bar-hopping looking for better situations, but Miller doesn't advise this if you want to last. "Don't ever burn your bridges," he says. "You never know if one bar owner is related to another in town."
While it's reassuring to think that skill matters, I recall an earlier conversation with Ian Paul, manager of the Ancient on Queen. The tall, dark-haired bartender is by no means unattractive, but he says someone like him can have difficulty landing a job in the hospitality industry when competing with women.
"Let's say you have two people with identical resumés applying for the same job," he says. "One's an average-looking guy and the other a 6-foot blond with tits out to here." Paul stretches out his arms to represent the size of the competition. "Most people who walk into a bar to have five or six drinks are male. As interesting as I am, most guys would rather hang out with the 6-foot blond."
I walk into Hooters at Adelaide and John to apply for a job. The mostly male clientele devour wings as statuesque girls in orange spandex shorts, child-sized tank tops and white high-top sneakers bring pitchers of beer. With my chest held high, I walk up to the busty hostess and ask if I can speak to a manager. "The management is in a meeting right now," says the hostess, the fabric of her white shirt clinging for dear life across her chest.
She invites me back tomorrow to speak to a manager at around 3 pm. "OK, I'll come back." As I walk out, several guys in their late 20s enter. They must come here for the wings.
Back home, I head for my room, the whistles from men on the street still echoing in my ears.