Updated: Sep 22, 2019
I had just mentioned restaurant culture when a man I just met summed it up so bluntly. "Restaurants are sex and drugs." I was taken aback by his succinct explanation, but I knew what he meant. Certainly in my serving career, drugs have existed at each of my jobs (not to mention alcohol). Food itself can be labeled a "drug." Moreover, his sentence described an industry that celebrates life, but sometimes with abandon. Part of is youthfulness, and part of it is extreme. It’s intense and fast-paced, and too often it's been an industry without boundaries. It's the negative potential, really, this article seeks to address.
Restaurants can be places that truly bring people together (customers, staff, everyone). There is the potential for flirting and fun. There's also the potential for clear physical trespass and degradation. Environments of excess are often boundary-less, and that can cultivate real problems. It's pretty understandable - stressful environments filled with people drinking a lot, working too much, in close quarters and without an understanding of legal standards of respect - no one being held accountable. In that intensity, that youthfulness, and that abandon, many restaurants condone sexual harassment as the norm.
According to the EEOC (U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission), the accommodation and food service industry have more sexual harassment claims than any other industry.
Indeed working in restaurants has its own culture, but it is still a workplace, and even the most liberal of people have ways they don’t want to be grabbed or spoken to. More importantly, workers have legal rights to a respectful workplace, and for too long these rights have been ignored - to the detriment of the company as well. As a business owner you should know that when there are no boundaries, lines will always be crossed. Worse, the most disrespectful people set the tone of your business. They bring down the energy of the rest of your staff, they normalize trespass, they make disrespectful comments and jokes, and the whole thing just feeds upon its own unhappiness until it sucks everyone in.
"Restaurants are sex and drugs." But the question is, do you want yours to be??
Toxic, boundary-less environments will always cultivate stress and unhappiness. Living without respect doesn't feel good, period. These atmospheres cultivate drug use (in an industry with the highest substance abuse rate) and cyclical patterns of unenjoyable work experiences, long unhappy shifts taking drugs to get by, or finishing your day by numbing out afterward. Certainly, unhappy work environments can attract unhappy workers, but whatever began the pattern is irrelevant when it's clear what makes it continue. Negative work culture is hard to manage, has negative impact on employees as well as customers, and leads to loss of revenue. You have a choice.
As the leader of your company you are the leader of your community, and you can choose to structure your environment with boundaries that comply with the law and honor your employees. In doing so you will open up to such higher levels of success both in money, and in the enjoyment of what you create.
You begin with a policy of respect (check out ours). You begin at the hiring process, training employees to be onboard with the actual legal requirements of maintaining a respectful work environment (as educated in our training, and listed in our sexual harassment policy). Or you begin now to implement this policy within your current company, set higher standards of ethics and watch your business rise. Start there, and you will find team players who want to offer their best to themselves, to their coworkers, and to your business.
You want to create a work environment worth giving your best to. Truly valuing your employees is the surest way to benefit from their greatest work. That's not to say that employees don't make their own choices after work, or that there is anything wrong with alcohol or an industry that promotes a social atmosphere. It is to say, that permitting a toxic, disrespectful culture, is the surest way to keep people from offering excellence. It is to say that you have power and responsibility over the behavior you permit within your company. As the leader of your community, you are inherently teaching people acceptable behavior. Boundaries teach mutual respect, honoring, and living with intention. Working with boundaries is actually far easier than operating a company without boundaries at all. Certainly, it's clear that respectful environments benefit everyone, but many business owners don't know where to begin. Enacting a sexual harassment policy offers them the chance to be in an environment where they can be their best (and also upholds your legal obligation.) Being in a respectful environment leads to collaboration and higher goals.
Let us take a moment to address the beauty of the restaurant industry.
The very purpose of restaurants is to bring people together. To be nourished with food and with company, the true celebration of life . . . that purity is something that can thrive in a respectful environment. Laughter, lightheartedness, hard work … all of the positive aspects of restaurants can come together in yours – if you choose.
The thing I love about restaurants is that they are filled with creatives. Respectful environments provide higher ideas of what to direct creative energy to.
Check out our sexual harassment policy here.