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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