And it's working. Well, until some cross the line between customer service and servicing customers (more on that later) and the police step in. With a general consensus on this 'movement' originating in Seattle, home of Starbucks and some of the most fanatical coffee and donut enthusiasts, it might not come as a surprise that companies felt the need to up the ante to compete with their peers. The result was the creation of the bikini barista, a phenomenon we'll take a closer look at here: in the wake of International Women's Day and the announced plan to spawn a reality show in one of these businesses, I'll weigh up whether women serving coffee in their pants really is such a good idea.
Yes, that jar on the far right is indeed for the 'Boob Job Fund'
The concept of some kind of cross between Hooters and Costa isn't entirely new: as early as 1999 companies employing barely-clothed women (and only women, just so we're clear about the gender divide here) started popping up across the pond. Natte Latte got things started with girls working in hot pink leather hotpants in 2001, before Lori Bowden's Cowgirls Espresso joined the ranks in 2003 with a Washington drive-thru coffee spot.
After a barista jokingly suggested working in her bikini to combat the summer heat, Bowden brought in Bikini Wednesdays for all staff. Profits quickly soared, and soon there was a sexy theme for each day of the week (and yes, the idea of School Girl Thursdays as a titillating way to sell coffee should set off some alarm bells for the average, well-adjusted adult).
Java Girls' owner on his business, a giggling barista & relatively awkward news reporter
There are now over 60 stalls like Seattle-born Baristas (soon to have its own reality show) and Java Girls where customers can be served by young women who "tastefully tease with sensuality in barista uniform" while dishing out morning cups of Joe. The Java Girls team insist their coffee is ethically sourced and of the highest quality, and that girls strutting around in French-cut underwear and their bras is just an added incentive to buying the best brew in town.
I can't say I'm exactly sold on the suggestion that bikini-clad women leaning out of windows is a secondary motive to bringing customers through the door, though. The line's increasingly blurred between just what is being sold and offered: is it just a warm beverage, or the chance to ogle a pretty girl's breasts in her bikini top while she serves you (in that traditional, female caretaker way, of course)? In short, does the quality of the coffee even matter when it's being handed to you by someone who'd be willing to flash more skin for a bit more money?
A 2009 Fox News report on the Everett arrests. The newscaster's vocal inflections make this even more ridiculous
Unfortunately for five girls working at Grab'n'Go Espresso in Washington state, that line was irrevocably crossed in 2009 when they were arrested under prostitution charges. Undercover cops learned over a two-month investigation that the girls were licking whipped cream off each other, letting customers touch them and stripping in exchange for cash. Other bikini barista companies quickly distanced themselves from the incident (most likely overjoyed to see one competitor put their foot it in so publicly) and since then all participating branches have to comply with state legislation on just how provocative their girls' uniforms can be.
A bystander's pic of a bikini barista hitting the road to lure customers in. For the coffee, of course
While there's obviously nothing new about buying into the idea that sex sells, it's interesting to see what kind of space businesses like this have and should have in society. We're not living in any sort of post-sexist age (as anyone who's familiar with, er, Page 3 or the recent UniLAD debacle will know) but can't seem to move away from the concept of women as objects, their worth measured by their looks. Turning standard 'woo, slutty Halloween' fare into work attire just smacks too much of a regressive idea, urging girls to remain content with being assessed based not on what they can do but how sexy they can look while doing it. And surely that's not the point any more.
Weigh in with your thoughts below. Are bikini baristas just a fad, and a harmless fleeting phenomenon? Or do they represent a step backwards for previous generations who've tried to give women worth beyond what straight men think of them?
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