Are We Really This Dumb in the Restaurant Industry?

Can we all agree these are extraordinary times when it comes to staffing your restaurant?

There just aren’t enough interested and qualified people to populate our teams. It also seems there’s little hope that is going to change with historic levels of unemployment. Which is why Megan Hunter’s story is a total headscratcher.

If you don’t already know, Megan was a server at her local Chili’s restaurant in Phoenix, AZ, when she entered a management training program at the encouragement of one of her managers. Unfortunately, the story has some ugly twists and turns, and it all focuses on one thing: Megan dressed in a traditionally masculine fashion for work.

Are you asking yourself what that means?

Allow me to explain.

Megan felt more comfortable dressing for work in the same attire her GM and other male managers chose to wear. At a seminar she attended, the district manager from her store saw her and told her GM that she was dressed inappropriately. If a button up shirt, fitted slacks and boat shoes are inappropriate, there are millions of men dressing inappropriately for work. You can imagine this feedback wasn’t particularly pleasant for Megan to hear, but she did what most women have done in the face of outright misogyny -- she tried to look past it to her goal of becoming a manager.

Meagan Hunter was denied a management promotion dressing too masculine.

Meagan Hunter was denied a management promotion dressing too masculine.

This is where the story just plain turns dumb.

Yes, DUMB! Her GM then proceeded to tell her, “We really want to hire you. However, we need you to dress more gender appropriate.” Incredulous, she asked, “Are you telling me that I need to have my breasts hanging out to be successful in your company?” He responded, “Not in those words.”

This is a self-own of epic proportions. I can assert with 100% confidence this type of idiotic management behavior has been out of fashion since the mid-90s. Being critical of a women’s attire because she dresses identically to your male managers is just plain DUMB.

Inconsistency is discrimination

Don’t believe me? Ask Hooter’s about Farynn Johnson’s lawsuit claiming racial discrimination because she was punished for adding blonde highlights to her hair. She argued successfully, that if the restaurant allowed other white women to have colored hair and highlights (which they clearly did) then they can’t preclude her from them, lest they racially discriminate. In Megan’s case it’s an issue of gender equality, but the analogy is quite clear. As managers, the men dressed exactly as Megan did and there were no consequences. That much is clear discrimination under the law.

Let me be frank, politics are not remotely relevant to this story. These are the laws we have to regulate our operations. Unless they are changed, anyone that engages in this type of discrimination opens themselves to a liability. No amount of righteous indignation will change that fact. And let’s be honest, nobody believes that Chili’s senior management thought this was a good idea. Our restaurants are populated by people that can potentially expose us to liability.

Bad for business

Additionally, this type of behavior is also destructive to your business.

First and foremost, it precludes you from hiring a qualified & motivated person based on a flawed belief that everyone needs to conform to some dogmatic gender roles. Yes, it’s verboten to set different dress codes for women and men and, in fact, it’s counter-productive. That is why, if you must have a dress code, make it vague enough that there is no gender bias. For example, all managers must dress business casual. Yes, that leaves much to the imagination, but it doesn’t openly discriminate if you apply it evenly across all genders.

There are no winners in this case. For Megan Hunter, it’s an indignation that must have felt terrible. For the operators involved, they are getting a hard lesson caused by their own ignorance of the law and ignorance current social standards. One hopes, all parties involved can emerge from it better prepared for the realities of our industry.