4 Tips to Combat Sexual Harassment in Bars & Restaurants

The last year has been a revelation for many of us as pertains to the rampant issues of sexual harassment and assault that exist in our industry. With celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and John Besh stepping down from their own companies, we have (if we didn’t know already) how problematic sexual harassment and assault is in our industry. Where before, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the consequences were mainly felt by the victims of this behavior, now those that have perpetrated these acts are being held accountable.

This is exactly why our inaugural RailTALK video blog focused on issues of sexual harassment and assault in restaurants.

Our guest, Lauren Taylor of DefendYourself.org and SafeBars.org, has been advocating for a culture change in our industry for many years. She joined us to review what restaurant operators can do to facilitate that change. Lauren shared some amazing insights that were both simple and indisputable in their relevance. Below are a couple of highlights we enjoyed from our discussion. However, we encourage you to watch the vlog and learn for yourself what you can do to protect everyone associated to the restaurant for which you are responsible.

Who Needs Protecting?

Chief among Lauren’s insights was the multiple constituencies that operators are responsible to as they address the culture of harassment in their businesses. The obvious answer is female staff that are subject to the behavior of their supervisors, teammates and guests. While it’s true that women servers/hosts/bartenders/cooks are often impacted, that isn’t where the responsibility ends.

For example, harassment between guests is a subtler, but still relevant aspect of what we see in our establishments. If you really want to create a safe culture for women (and men) to enjoy your location, then addressing the potential that a guest can harass another guest, a server can harass a guest or (as is most often reported) a guest can harass a service staff person is crucial.

Learn from Each Other

A key way to evolve your culture is to encourage your team to share their own strategies for managing issues of harassment they have either witnessed or experienced. An open dialogue accomplishes two things simultaneously. First, it creates an environment where people don’t feel compelled to internalize their experiences and can share them openly. Second, if each person shares one strategy then everyone else learns an additional way to manage a difficult situation.

Collective learning coupled with an open environment is a great recipe for advancing a culture that is both safe and respectful. The more your staff feels they can approach this uncomfortable issue, the more likely they are to report something that goes amiss. And just like that, you are on the road to creating an atmosphere that is conducive to respect for anyone one that enters your building

Zero Tolerance

Sure, the cliché surrounding a “zero tolerance” policy is that no one is allowed to oppress another staff member. Unfortunately, we see that in both our culture at large and in our industry, this is not the reality.

For example, chefs are allowed to behave in ways that defy appropriate norms because they are “talented” or valuable. This type of entitlement is exactly what causes the inequities we see in restaurants. It’s incumbent on all managers and operators to address inappropriate behavior immediately, fairly and thoughtfully.

For the perpetrator, you want to turn addressing their behavior into a teachable moment. For the victim, you are demonstrating your commitment to fairness and a safe work place. Both of these are real methods for turning the tide of a culture that has run amok. The more you allow bad behavior because of performance, the less seriously you are going to be taken by your staff. That alone should be sufficient motivation to implement a real zero tolerance approach to issues of harassment and assault.

It bears repeating that sexual harassment is an issue is not going away any time soon. The momentum enjoyed by women that have come forward is having a real impact and we will all be better for it. This is a moment in time, where you can take control of this issue and create an atmosphere of professionalism in your operation. And it will only support the other aspects of your business that benefit from respect and fairness…which is to say, all of it.