Plunging necklines, lingerie parties and the new family restaurant

By  Dorothy Pilarski
  • February 18, 2011
Before becoming a mother, I never realized the job description included letter writing, but over the years I have written many of them — to teachers, principals, directors, priests and camp counsellors.

Most recently I wrote a letter to the president of SIR Corp., a Canadian company that operates 46 restaurants in Canada. Their brands include Jack Astor’s, Alice Fazooli’s, Canyon Creek, Reds, Far Niente, Four, Petite For and Loose Moose. Judging from their online financial statements, they are doing well.

My letter concerned a troubling dining experience at Jack Astor’s. I was there with family to celebrate a new publishing contract. I have been a good customer — dining there since the day it has opened.

So I was shocked to find the restaurant had developed a “new and fun” atmosphere. It’s unclear when it started, but Jack Astor’s seems to have decided to sexualize their environment. What used to be a fun, funky, family place, has evolved into a restaurant that uses sex to sell food.

But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s hardly a new trend. We  can hardly turn on a TV, turn a page on a magazine or turn around a corner without being bombarded with offensive advertising. So maybe it was only a matter of time before cleavage joined the menu in a so-called family restaurant.

As a woman, I find that degrading. As a mother it just makes me angry.

When our party was greeted by the hostesses, I thought maybe I’d entered a Hooters or a gentleman’s club. It was the regular dinner hour, the place was teeming with kids, but the girls all had plunging necklines. One, wearing a bulging red bra, seemed to be having trouble keeping her bosom where it belonged.

I am not a prude but this was awkward and it was distasteful. The restaurant has a children’s menu and there were kids at many of the tables. Typically, having a children’s menu indicates a family restaurant. At least it used to.

And family restaurant’s don’t come with plunging necklines. Nor should they  come with racy music videos. But that’s what was playing on 22-plus television screens. Among the titles were: “Take it Off” by Kesha, “Can’t Be Tamed” by Miley Cirus and “Circus” by Britney Spears.

These may be mainstream music videos, but to show them in a restaurant full of impressionable kids during the dinner hour was more than inappropriate.

It was bizarre to see young children in a “family” restaurant being subjected to a type of suggestive singing and gyrating that most would never be allowed to watch at home.

When I objected to the wait staff, the manager and the general manager they all said that head-office executives were aware of what was on the screens. There had been a directive from the top to create an environment where sexiness was to be positively embraced as being “fun.” One waitress had a lot to say on the matter. She encouraged me to write.

My letter elicited an e-mail response from head office, but so far there has been no assurance that the inappropriate videos will be discontinued during the dinner hour.

It would also be nice to see the employees cover up. Hopefully, they aren’t being forced to wear those skimpy outfits.

Just as parents have a responsibility to protect, teach and instil proper values in children, corporate Canada has a responsibility to uphold basic public standards of morality and decency when it is interacting with our families. At minimum, that would include warning parents when an environment is unsuitable for children. We demand as much from movies. It is sad to think we may need a rating system for restaurants.

A few days after writing my letter, I had lunch at East Side Mario’s. I told the waiter about my experience at his competitor. He said, “Oh, yes, I was at Jack Astor’s last night for a lingerie party. My friend works there.”

“Lingerie party? What is that?” I asked.

“That’s when the girls that work behind the bar only wear lingerie while serving the customers.”

Somebody please tell me he’s wrong. A lingerie party in a restaurant that promotes a junior menu? Oh for the days when big companies had a social conscience.

(Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at

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