How the #MeToo Movement Has Affected the Restaurant Industry

by Devin Morrissey, Contributor

The #MeToo movement reaches a number of industries, and restaurants are no exception. However, despite the publicity of certain restaurateurs who have had plenty said against them, not all of their restaurants have shut down. There may be fewer guests walking through the doors, but many of these restaurants are still in operation. While the #MeToo movement is bringing much-needed attention to sexual harassment and misconduct in the restaurant industry, it’s not having the results people would expect.

Well-Known Chefs and #MeToo 

The #MeToo movement has tarnished reputations but not ended careers.

The Spotted Pig, an eatery in New York City known for its burgers, has been in the media due to sexual misconduct by owner Ken Friedman. While April Bloomfield, the Spotted Pig’s chef and Friedman’s business partner, split with Friedman following the allegations, Friedman still owns and profits from the restaurant.

Mario Batali is one of many other restaurant owners with a similar story. Several women, many of them employees, accused Batali of sexual misconduct. While he said he’d be leaving B&B Hospitality, he hasn’t yet, and he continues to profit from a number of his own restaurants. 

These Restauranteurs Aren’t Suffering Enough

The more #MeToo is integrated with our culture, the less tolerant the public is of bad behavior. It’s common for consumers to no longer buy from businesses with these type of leaders at the helm.

However, when it comes to the restaurant industry, especially in terms of restaurants owned by celebrity chefs, guests are slower to stop giving them business. While these chefs and restaurant owners may be taking a hit when it comes to their reputation, they’re not suffering financially, despite the fact that the sexual misconduct is often committed in the restaurants and their employees are the victims. Business may be decreasing, but these restaurants aren’t closing down and the restauranteurs are still profiting.

Defining Sexual Harassment

Defining sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

There are all types of harassment that can take place in the workplace, including bullying, discrimination and verbal harassment. Sexual harassment is what #MeToo is typically associated with, and while men can be impacted, women are the largest group of victims. There are a number of behaviors that can constitute sexual harassment:

  • Asking for sexual favors.

  • Invading someone’s space, i.e. standing too close to them in the kitchen or behind the bar.

  • Making inappropriate gender-specific or sexual jokes.

  • Sending explicit photos to employees.

  • Talking publicly about sexual encounters so that others can hear.

  • Viewing pornography in the workplace.

Even consensual sexual encounters can be considered harassment if they take place at work.

Context plays a big role in determining whether or not something is considered sexual harassment. For example, an isolated incident may not be harassment depending on its nature. On the other hand, harassment escalates when someone’s job is impacted based on their reaction to the advances. For instance, if a line cook isn’t promoted because she won’t have a sexual relationship with the head chef, that type of behavior should be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

There’s a Chance for Restauranteurs to Get it Right

How restauranteurs can combat sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

Restaurant managers and owners who want to do the right thing have the chance to support the #MeToo movement and help the industry be seen in a better light. Victims need advocates, and there’s no better advocate for a restaurant-related harassment incident than another restaurant.  

Managers should have a publicly stated and followed zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment, which means that even one event will lead to the employee being let go. Employers should also educate all employees on what constitutes sexual harassment and assault and what to do if it happens to them. If necessary, legal steps should be taken with the full support of the restaurant owner or manager. All employees should have to go through training that covers what is considered appropriate etiquette and which behaviors should be avoided. Also, employees should have clear directions for what to do if they feel they’ve been harassed. 

There isn’t an industry that is exempt from sexual misconduct or harassment, but there are several industries that have made strides to protect victims. For example, healthcare workers are at risk for workplace violence and injury, which has led to The Joint Commission releasing a series of steps to prevent or respond to violence. These steps include defining workplace violence, creating systems so that employees can report a violent incident, keeping track of all reports and providing counseling to victims.

Final Thoughts 

Responsible restaurant owners may still lose out on some of the profit they could be making because restaurants that should be closed remain open. Unfortunately, even the most reprehensible perpetrators can retain their fanbase, even if a crime was committed in the restaurant itself. The restaurant business is hard, and those who ignore the #MeToo movement make it harder. The best response a restaurant owner can have is to show their employees and guests that they don’t tolerate any type of harassment. With time, the hope is that the restaurants with upstanding leaders will last longer than those that shouldn’t be operating any longer.