Cape Town - Popular Cape Town restaurant Societi Bistro, which has wined and dined Hollywood stars such as Hugh Jackman, has been mired in a sex scandal.
At least six men told Weekend Argus they had been sexually harassed, groomed, manipulated or assaulted by upmarket male patrons, as well as the man at the helm of the well-known restaurant in Orange Street, Peter Weetman.
Some waiters described the restaurant as a brothel in disguise. Police were also called to the restaurant when one incident got out of hand.
“It started during my interview already,” former waiter Jonathan Saunders, 29, said.
“Peter offered me R1 500 to sleep with him that very same evening,” Saunders, who is not afraid of being identified, said.
“I declined the offer. But that was the start of my rocky relationship with Societi Bistro. He made a lot of jokes thereafter like: ‘You would have a better night with me than the person you’re currently with.’
“I didn’t think these suggestive jokes were funny,” said Saunders, who is straight.
Weetman told Weekend Argus he was aware of the allegations.
“It has come to my attention (that these claims have been made) and I’m trying to navigate my way through finding the correct policies to deal with issues like this.”
However, Saunders is not the only complainant. A DA Youth member said he had also been a victim.
“Peter would organise me escorts, even if I said: ‘No, thank you’,” the DA member said.
“I would be sitting and enjoying my lunch when Peter would come around and say: ‘Here’s your escort.’”
Shocked, he would reply: “I didn’t order any escort.”
He said he had felt so uncomfortable that he had stood up and left immediately.
“When I started working at Societi Bistro, the owner, Peter, told me it would be really difficult for him not to flirt with me,“ a 20-year-old waiter, who asked not to be named, said. He added that he didn’t “think much of it” at first.
“He used me to make other guys who came to eat at the restaurant jealous,” he said.
“He would, like, ask me to hang on him or to give him a kiss on the cheek in an attempt to make his other customers jealous. He also made it very clear that I should avail myself 24/7 and always be ready to fulfil his sexual needs.”
The alleged victim had relocated from North West in October. He moved in with his foster parents who allegedly had a “really good“ rapport with Weetman.
“I really needed this job,” he said.
But 49 days later he was axed after he told Weetman that he vehemently refused to satisfy his alleged sexual needs.
“After my shift ended, at 1am, we cashed up and he summoned me to his office. He told me he was going to ask me questions about the menu and every time I got something wrong I had to remove a piece of clothing,” he said.
“So I took off a shoe, a shoe, a sock, a sock… eventually I was just left in my jeans, and then he told me: ‘I’m sucking your c**k tonight’, and I told him: ‘No, you're not.’
“He then said: ‘Do you want to get fired? If you don't let me suck your d**k, you can take your stuff and leave.’
“He made me sign some papers and I left.”
Weetman denied the incident.
Another former waiter at Societi Bistro said he also fell victim to the “madness”.
He said he was inappropriately groped by celebrity chef Aubrey Ngcungama.
“He went straight for my crotch, numerous times. It was so weird and inappropriate,” he said.
Ngcungama admitted the incident to Weekend Argus.
“On some occasions I had too much wine and behaved inappropriately, and that is something I regret and I apologise for that. It’s what it was; I definitely misbehaved and I apologise.”
The former waiter said that wasn’t the only incident.
“Another man once tried to grope me. I called the police and went home.”
No case was registered with the SAPS.
A guest said he was also groped by a “horny rodent”.
“You don’t really take note of what’s going on behind closed doors because it’s kind of subtle,” he told Weekend Argus.
“There was this one incident when I was cornered on my way to the bathroom and then the person just fully came in to kiss me.
“I immediately pulled away, obviously, cause I’m not interested at all. I didn’t made a scene, as it was at an event.”
A former female employee told Weekend Argus the work culture was “toxic” and that Weetman was “misogynistic”.
“He would ask us to do his f******g laundry,” she said.
“If we refused to do his laundry, he would slap us with warnings.”
She further alleged that she was summoned to fix Weetman’s tumble dryer.
“That’s not part of my f******g job description,” she said, adding that the work environment was “awful”.
Weetman acknowledged that the current policies were not adequate.
“If a male waiter was feeling uncomfortable, then we’d rather swop out and let a female waiter take over, if the patron happened to be a gay male,” he said.
“If the female was uncomfortable, I would then step in. If that didn’t work and it became completely unbearable, I would ask the guest to leave.
“I admit that’s not perfect science and I should have protected my waiters more, and maybe asked people to leave.
“It’s such a complex situation and I did try my best, but clearly I have failed.”
Weetman denied groping waiters and said he would send the alleged victims for counselling if they requested this.
“I deny groping the waiters myself, and I don’t encourage patrons to come to my restaurant and randomly start groping my employees. That’s just not who I am,” he said.
Natalie Jardine, Societi Bistro’s former PR consultant, said: “I was made (aware) of the inappropriate sexual behaviour by the waiters who worked at the restaurant. I have seen the owner being flirtatious with many young men (all of legal age) and a few regulars behaving inappropriately sexually towards the male waiters,” she said.
“I hosted a series of summer events at the venue and did some PR work for the restaurant. My departure from the brand was for a myriad reasons, but this particular staff issue was one of them,” Jardine added.
“As someone who does work in the LGBTQIA+ community, I cannot condone behaviour that takes advantage of anyone without shining a light on it. Staying neutral is choosing the side of the oppressor.“
The Restaurant Association of South Africa said it did not condone this alleged behaviour.
“Ensuring the safety of our patrons and waiters has always been our highest priority,” the association’s president, Wendy Alberts, said, adding she was “shocked” by the allegations and would take the matter up with the owner.