Harassment: Urgent Action to Protect Your Restaurant Staff and Reputation

Sexual harassment is all over the news, and likely to remain there for some time to come. And as journalists and celebrities find the courage to speak up, everyday workers will also find the confidence to talk about their past experience, or draw the line on something they are going through right now. The smart restaurant manager or owner is doubling down on anti-harassment action  – here’s what I suggest:

  • Bring out your Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Bullying, and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies and give everyone a printed copy in a plastic binder, with their name on it. This shows how seriously you take the issue. Don’t have one yet? The Profitable Hospitality downloadable versions are an excellent start. Put some extracts or quotes in poster form on the noticeboard.
  • Hold a number of short staff meetings where attendance is compulsory. Go through the policies line by line and invite questions and discussion. Listen more than you talk. Ask for examples of what people may have experienced at another workplace. Request that it not be named, but by talking about somewhere else, this can sometimes give people the confidence to take part in a discussion.
  • Talk about those jokes. It’s challenging for many people to accept that what they think is just funny, could be regarded as harassment by someone else. That joke about the apprentice’s new girlfriend? All the guys laugh, but how did the women in the kitchen react? Talk about his car instead, and respect his relationship. Does Sleazy Stan the barman need a private chat about his behaviour? Hopefully he’ll get the message and clean up or move on.
  • Be real. Acknowledge that you’re uncomfortable talking about this, but it’s in the news and you know people may have questions. Renew your ‘my door is always open for a private talk’ promise – provide your email and phone number. Is there a rumour you should act on, and reach out to someone vulnerable?
  • Explain that managers have a special responsibility. Meet separately and explain their duty of care, and how they should handle infractions. Get them to listen to this podcast interview on Reducing Sexual Harassment Risks with lawyer Richard Edwards and HR specialist Natasha Hawker. This is hard but necessary work for all managers to do – role-play some situations and promise backup when they need to handle a situation.
  • Get rid of questionable products from your menu: how can we have a serious discussion about this and still sell ‘Blow Job’ and ‘Sex on the Beach’ cocktails? Delete them, and no-one will notice.
  • Be friendly, but not friends with your staff. This is a challenging one – so many hospitality businesses are run like a big, unruly family, with all the usual banter, joking and excuses. Get real – your staff already have friends and family of their own – as owner or manager, they want you to be kind and friendly, but they’re not after friends who may be twice their age.
  • Cut the swearing. It’s ironical that the F, C and Sh words are now used freely on TV,  but I’m suggesting they should be eliminated from daily use by staff, managers and owners. There are other ways to express your anger and frustration. When you clean this up, there’s an improvement in the emotional tone and the way people relate to each other. A challenging one!
  • Protect your staff from customer harassment. Alcohol changes everyone’s behaviour, and young attractive female and male staff are often groped or ‘hit on’ by customers. It’s not OK. Give staff a method to alert their manager if they feel threatened, and be ready to politely but firmly ask those customers to leave. Another challenging situation, upending decades of tolerated behaviour in bars and everywhere alcohol is served.
  • Make the Christmas party a test for future socialising. Many restaurants have their party in January, after the rush. It’s good for everyone to relax and let their hair down, but the same rules apply about behaviour, intoxication and harassment.
  • That’s my quick list – any other actions you have taken? Drop them into the Comments below, or on the Ken Burgin Facebook page…