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It's a tale as old as time: Girl starts business, girl discovers stripping down to her skivvies drives up sales, girl gets sued by city unless she covers her breasts "from the top of the areola on down." But this past week there was a new twist on the old story as the ladies of the Little Saigon "lingerie" cafe discovered that when you show a little skin you cause a whole lot of furor.
Blurring the line between strip joint and coffee shop, lingerie or bikini cafes are generally mom-and-pop establishments whose business model is decidedly more pop than mom. The city and police department of Garden Grove, California, took a dim view of the conflation and decided that the level of nudity on display at Little Saigon crossed the line of good taste. They ordered the cafe to have its waitresses suit up or be closed down. But is it really a big deal to have your double latte served with some double D's?
When I lived in Seattle there was a drive-thru bikini cafe just down the street and I had more than one friend, both male and female, who stopped by for their morning cuppa Joe. "It's just convenient," my girl friend said about the corner location between two busy highways, but when I asked a guy friend about his continued patronage he cocked an eyebrow and answered, "You have to ask?"
While they are growing in popularity, there are issues with using nearly naked models as your business model. One problem with these cafes is that context matters. People expect to see a bikini on the beach or a tabloid cover but not when they're ordering a "lil' steamer" for their toddler. Yet in a world where Hooters has become passe with their comparably dowdy uniforms of tank tops and short shorts, restaurants are looking for ways to stand out even if it means pushing (or popping) some buttons.
Another issue is that just like other skin professions, the vast majority of flesh is of the girly variety. While I suppose there is a shirtless barista somewhere, a pair of swim trunks isn't nearly as shocking as a lacy thong. There is also the problem of pressure -- while so far it seems as if all the girls strip down willingly, it can create a corporate culture that encourages sexual exploitation and harassment, especially in such a tip-based profession. Anyone else read the young adult novel "T-shirts, T-backs, COAT and Suit"? Spoiler alert: The only waitress who doesn't strip down to her thong for construction workers is the lady with a double mastectomy.