Notes on Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry
The Besh Group has made news in recent days for fostering a culture of sexual harassment within their restaurants. While this is a disgrace, these allegations don’t come as a surprise to those who are a part of the hospitality industry. Restaurants are far too willing to settle for the toxic workplace environments that foster harassment and inequity in many ugly forms.
We all need to ask ourselves what we can do better to combat all forms of harassment in our restaurants. The bulk of this responsibility falls on people like myself—restaurant owners and operators. We are responsible for creating fair and safe work environments through effective policies and practices. We are responsible for monitoring “locker-room talk” in our kitchens. We are responsible for creating a workplace culture that does not tolerate harassment. We are responsible for promoting women to positions of power just as often as we promote men.
Restaurant work can be tough, and employers often tell staff members to "toughen up or get out" if they receive complaints about harassment on the job. Restaurant workers often have to navigate physically and mentally demanding jobs, but the toughness that is required of the job does not extend to someone having to put up with being demeaned or disrespected at work.
Creating a workplace that is free from harassment (sexual and otherwise) should be the lowest bar we set for our businesses. Instead, I would hope that restaurant owners would create a vision for a positive workplace environment and culture that fits with their organization. We work incredibly hard at 1000 Figs to foster a community that is healthy and nourishing to the people that are a part of it. You can’t do your best work if you aren’t happy in your workplace, and we take building a strong community very seriously.
This takes enormous effort, but our restaurant could not function effectively without it. Our food and service is always at its best when we have a well-supported and happy team. We still have so much work to do, and I can think of about 87 things that I need to address in order to make our work environment better. One of these is having a stronger written policy regarding sexual harassment. That is now in the works.
How can others help out in this fight?
Reporters and those in the media: Please work to hold restaurants in New Orleans accountable to being upstanding community members by bringing to light social issues related to those businesses. Brett Anderson’s reporting was hugely necessary and much appreciated. No food writer has ever asked me anything about our employment practices when featuring our restaurant. Why not? Is it not in the public interest to know whether our employees make a living wage? Or how many sexual harassment complaints have been filed in our restaurant last year? Or what percentage of our food comes from local farmers? Please start asking harder questions and don't let restaurant owners and chefs get away with vague platitudes regarding their business practices--demand real answers.
Restaurant employees: Everyone can reflect on the ways their behavior at work might be contributing to a poor work environment for their peers. Call out harassment when you see it— even if it is not directed at you. Request clarity on policies that you feel are lacking. Organize inside and outside of the workplace to demand better working conditions.
Eaters: Support businesses that make strong efforts to create equitable work environments for their employees. Ask your friends in the food industry what they know. They’ll have a lot of stories.
Many more solutions abound. Let’s begin to implement them.
-Theresa Galli, Owner, 1000 Figs