What the Erin Andrews, Hulk Hogan trials can teach about privacy

In America, we have always valued our privacy. It’s a fairly consistent constitutional conversation, and the average American would say they hold it as one of their dearest rights. This probably accounts for the enormous awards received by both Hulk Hogan ($115MM) and Erin Andrews ($55MM)

As restaurant operators we can’t forget just how much privacy we manage and how important it is to our guests and staff. From the data we collect to who visits our restaurants (and with whom) we are a place where folks go to simultaneously be social and private. It’s a conflicting state of being, but it’s our job to manage and protect those folks, along with our staff. 

The goal is always a fun and care-free environment, and it’s up to us to create and protect it.

Protecting your restaurant’s guests privacy

From the data they share with us to who they spend time with at your place, guests expect restaurants to respect their privacy in exchange for their patronage. This can be complicated, so you have to have a plan. 

In a piece we published a few weeks ago, your cybersecurity really matters. Follow the simple steps outlined there and you will at least improve your security performance on your data. As to how and with whom they spend time at your location, it’s a little more complicated.

With social media being pervasive, you never know when you might post a picture on your social stream that outs or offends a guest. Fair to say you don’t want to do that, so remember to ask permission before you post any faces

Erin Andrews testifies during her nude video trial

Erin Andrews testifies during her nude video trial

However, social media isn’t the only place where guests expect your discretion and protection. 

In the case of Erin Andrews, the hotel not only allowed the creep who assaulted her privacy to move his room next to her’s, but they did so for this guy multiple times. What we learned specifically is that you have an inherent responsibility to protect your guests from other patrons. This doesn’t mean that it’s your job to thwart every potential stalker in your establishment; just don’t facilitate them. 

It may sound simple enough, don’t give guests info or access to other guests without both parties consent. However, in practice a guest may ask, “What’s his name? I want to meet him.” That sounds innocuous, but can lead to dire consequences. 

We run social centers, so you have to use your best judgement, but I suggest you err on the side of caution. Even a hint that you caused pain to a guest, by an innocent introduction, isn’t a responsibility you want. It’s definitively your job to provide a positive and safe environment for guests to congregate, interact and enjoy themselves. The balance is the challenge. It won’t detract from your overall atmosphere if you and your team are cautious and thoughtful about sharing guest’s information, habits or preferences with anyone other than your staff.

And don't forget to police your staff in their habits. Recently, a waiter hacked into a guest's phone and posted a topless photo of her on the Internet. No guest should feel violated like that by one of your workers. Never.

Don’t forget to protect your employees, too

While the responsibility to protect guests is serious for our industry, it’s our staff that is far more exposed to unwanted attention. By the very nature of our business, we encourage our staff to be friendly, accommodating and playful. This makes for the right tone of service, but can also confuse a guest whose can’t differentiate between good service and romantic interest.

Normally, this is fairly benign and managing it isn’t a concern. However, there are times when you must be aware. It starts with simple things like requests to sit in a specific section or inappropriate gifts to a server, bartender or host. While you can’t stop a guest from misinterpreting a server’s attention, you can insure there are some protections for your team’s privacy.

Back in the day when we did manual schedules, we included the phone numbers of staff under their names to facilitate shift coverage and switching. With today’s technology, there is absolutely no reason to do that. With great scheduling programs like HotSchedules, staff can communicate about shift changes in a central place with no need to share any personal information.

Waitress taking orders

Additionally, you constantly have to remind your team, not to give out anyone else’s schedule to a guest. This may sound intuitive, but we regularly bring in new team members and this point should be stressed during orientation. It will prove to your new employee that you are serious about their privacy.

Most importantly, you have pay attention. A staff member might be reticent to share an experience they thought was inappropriate. If someone is unnerved, you can see it… if you care to pay attention. You’re the leader, and your team is counting on you to deliver a place where they can work, have fun, and feel safe.

Privacy is a right that should be protected — for both your guests and your employees. You don’t want to be the next cautionary tale. So guard your data, don’t facilitate guests interacting without their consent, and pay attention to your staff. 

Otherwise you may wind up on the wrong end of litigation for a offense you didn’t even know you committed.

Waitress taking order image by Adikos.