Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tolerance Does Not Equal Hospitality

I’m a restaurant manager of a fine dining establishment in Denver, Colorado. 

I stood at the expo corner in the foreground of our incredibly open kitchen as chef called off the entrees as “Seat one, seat two and seat three; table four”. Picking them up and following a server, he told me the gentlemen at this table had been ‘creepy’ to the young woman who was hosting, as she had shown them to their table. My eyes immediately flicked up and asked for details of the situation. As I carefully placed the dishes in front of the guests, one of them said “Let me see you smile.” I fought the immediate response the corners of my mouth had to rise up – because, still, the typical response to this kind of sexism is for women to give the reaction that men want in order for them to stop – to actually smile. I locked eyes with him and said “Do not tell me what to do with my own face.” The other two men raised their eyebrows and let out some “oooooo”s, clearly taking my words as ‘fighting words’. Because that’s how it is when you stand up to a man – you can’t just stand up for yourself, it has to be taken as a fight in their eyes. I asked if there was anything else I could bring for the table, and when I was met with darting eyes and silence, I replied with “Wonderful”, and continued on to find out the details of what I had just heard. 

I asked our host what happened with that table when she sat them, and she said they were creepy. They commented on her appearance, told her she was pretty, leaned in incredibly close to her face and told her they could see her freckles. When she sat them at the table, one of them took her hand and told her to sit down with them. This hadn’t happened to her before at work. She felt sick afterward, and like something was just not quite right; she said she felt ‘off’.
That’s what it’s like, at minimum, to be violated.

Months have come and gone since this encounter, and recalling this still makes my heart race with anger. 

She told me she didn’t know what to say, so she just smiled, made a joke and walked away. I informed her it is not okay for guests to act like that, and if she is ever, ever uncomfortable at work to please inform me, because that is not acceptable. Time ticked on and the restaurant slowed, and our host’s shift ended for the evening. The three men were still enjoying their time at the restaurant, and I stayed at the host stand for an hour to make sure I was at the door as they walked out. 

They strolled past me and I addressed them with “Gentlemen, do you have a moment?” and they all stopped to look at me. I continued on with “Your behavior tonight was completely unacceptable. Not only your comments to me during your time here, but specifically the way you treated my host when she was showing you to the table.” I was met with “Are you fucking kidding me?” and I replied with a sharp “No, I am not kidding. You made her uncomfortable, and those kinds of interactions with my staff are not tolerated.” The man who had instructed me to smile earlier started to raise his voice with “I need to speak with your manager.” I finally gave him that smile he was asking for, and said “I am the manager, and the owner is in the kitchen – I’d be more than happy to get her if you’d like to speak with her. If not, please show yourselves out,” with a gesture to the door.

“You’re a fucking cunt.”

It’s times like these that I wish I had the ability to raise just one eyebrow, but I don’t, so I raised both, as to say “…come again?” 

Louder, this time: “You are a fucking cunt.” I gave a close-lipped smile and locked eye contact with him as he backed out of the restaurant, staring at me. I made sure he was the one to break the eye contact, with a feeling of submission – a tactic I learned from training a dog. 

When they were out of sight I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I walked back into the office with shaky hands because, for some reason, no matter how many times I confront sexist pigs and tell them their behavior is not okay, my nerves get wracked. 

I’ve been in the host’s position before. I’ve been in that position as a server. I’ve dealt with it as a bartender. It happens everywhere, at every restaurant, at every job, though some places more than others. I have seldom felt supported by my own managers as an employee, and I never want my staff to feel like that. I always, 100% of the time want them to feel like I have their back. Because I do. Because I believe they should be comfortable at work and able to perform their job professionally and confidently. I also want them to come to me and tell me if a guest is saying something that is inappropriate, because I want to handle it. I want to tell these men that it is not okay they act the way that they do, because I have the confidence to. It is important to me. 

But here is the kicker: I’m alone in that. I am part of a very small management team – there are only 3 of us (outside the owner, who is female and stands with me), and the other two are male. I know that they would hesitate in that situation, or address it with the idea that “it’s not that bad”. I know that because this is what I was met with after that situation from a male counterpart: 

“Did you have the facts? You can’t say that to people. What did they actually say to her? Did anyone else see this happen? Did anyone else hear any of this?”

And responses like that are exactly why staff does not speak out against this behavior when it happens. This is why women are quiet. This is how it gets perpetuated. It is this idea that It’s not that bad. You’re in the hospitality industry. These are our guests. 

That’s right, goddammit, these are our guests. They are guests in our home, this restaurant that we work at. They don’t get to call the shots. They don’t get to be assholes and treat women however they want. They don’t get to be sexist pigs when we are professionals. You expect hospitality? I expect you to not be (for lack of a better term) a piece of shit. 

I write this piece for a lot of people. I write it for my staff, for them to know I always have their backs. I write it for male managers in the industry – I write it for the male managers I’ve had in the industry that didn’t stick up for me. I write it for the male managers in the industry that don’t address the issue because it’s ‘uncomfortable’ for them (motherfucker do you think I was comfortable being called a ‘fucking cunt’ in our restaurant (twice!)?). I write it for the female managers in the industry who have to deal with it. I write it for the female managers in the industry that are scared to deal with it. I write it for all restaurant/hospitality professionals to remind ourselves that taking care of people does not mean putting up with sexual harassment. It does not mean we cannot have the same standards for our guests as our staff. 

And lastly, I write it for the men who are going to comment with “But not all men are like that.” I write it for the men who are going to email me with “Just lighten up.” I write it for the men who are going to ask “Well were they drinking?” 

Thank you to my boss, Linda Hampsten Fox, for being a powerful female restaurant owner that does not tolerate this behavior in her restaurant, and encouraged me to act on the situation. This is how change happens.
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Thursday, March 8, 2018

waters of unrest

Unrest is an awful area for the heart to be treading water in. It is, however, how you learn and how you grow and how you be a "better person" and how you get to that point in your life where you think back and realize you're not at that point where you used to be anymore.

For the second time in the past 48 hours I have felt the urge to chuck my computer through a huge glass window out onto Central street and watch it get smashed to pieces by a random car zooming in front of the Denver skyline. And then I'll lean through the glass window and holler to the person if they could kindly throw their car in reverse and run over it again? Thanks.
Sometimes urges are so real you can actually see your urges acting themselves out. Your eyelids shut and flip a channel to show you another version of your life. For a few seconds you get to see an alternate universe where you do throw your computer through a glass window; you do shatter the wine glass in your hand, you do tell that person to fuck off, you do run your car into the back of theirs. It is not always rage but mine usually is.

***

After racing Portland I couldn't get healthy enough to start another training regimen. It's safe to assume this was problematic for my soul, but I was able to throw myself into work because it turns out opening and keeping a restaurant together is difficult and there is constantly more things to do than minutes in the day. I would say 'seconds in the day' but I don't wish to be dramatic.

I took some time off from running, told people I needed a break for a bit. That wasn't true. Sometimes when you feel a wave of life coming on that you're not sure you can handle, you abandon what you really truly know. It's a sense of panic that seems to be low-key and last for what seems to be months, but turns out being an unfortunate but necessary life stage. The beginning is a dabble with your toes. The water is so cold, but if you leave your feet in long enough, your skin will get used to it. When you go in further, the new water line is shocking, yet becomes the new norm, and is regulated.

I got very sick. Twice.
I went home to Michigan. Twice.
I worked with sciatic pain.
I tried to run through sciatic pain.
I yelled at Zac, and experienced true regret.
I had a sinus infection.
I have allergies?
I tried to tell myself I'd just focus on climbing more.
I cried at work.
I almost quit my job after a full night's rest.
I stared in a mirror and told myself I was fat.
I cried myself to sleep.
It was rough weather outside the panes for so long.

I'm on the other side of that, now. My toes found some slimy mud and the shore came into sight. I gained some traction and treading circles became real steps. I relaxed my neck and brought my chin down as air was more accessible. I didn't have to hold my head up anymore. My shoulders were free, but the waves held onto the hips as the legs continue to fight the pull of the water. They are heavy steps and they are slow steps, but they are steps. Ribs almost burst through the skin as the lungs rapidly suck in the air. With a relentless walk, the feet finally made imprints on hardened soil. There are just a few strides and they are difficult because the quads are shaking and the calves are so tight. Few but strong, until the knees give completely and the body collapses into the hot, tiny sand. I stare out at the ocean with arms of bricks and a slouch that does the spine no favors. I blink away drops of water and some stay on the lashes. They are salty but they're not tears. It's a heavy sigh with a soft "Goddamn." as the gaze falls to tiny sand sticking to toes. Still.

My hair is so thick and heavy it slicks back instead of parting and falling around my shoulders. The sun will dry the whispy curls first, leaving the heavy chunks to hang and stay wet at the core. It won't look good but we can fix it later. Though the sun dries the water, the salt will remain. An invisible, gritty film to be licked off your lips before the first real drink of water.

**

I want life to be as easy and rhythmic as a comfortable running pace. I want to be able to count to three with steps and start over with a new breath. I want to be able to know when it will be over. To get stronger you do hard and fast repetitions. You run so hard you experience slight vision loss. Your muscles have to scream and your lungs have to want to work harder than they're capable. All of that is tolerable because there is a watch that tells you when it will be over. You can count your pain away. You will know that pain isn't pointless. It has a purpose and you have chosen to apply it for reasons rooted in logic and science.

All it really took was a new computer and a pretty nice four mile run. I probably write too much about running and how I think it is much like life, but it is often just too perfect it cannot be ignored. Maybe it is so perfect for me because life and running became so deeply intertwined that to separate them is not an option. If they were separated, I would have to do something else with my life.
Something else like swim.

xo
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