With news stories popping up since 2017 about high-profile individuals committing heinous acts of sexual assault or harassment, it can be all too easy to think of these things as an issue far removed from the average person. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that harassment and assault is prevalent in many areas of industry, including the restaurant world, where more than 12 million people were employed in October of 2018.

Entering the world of food services, one can’t help but feel amazed yet also not surprised at the amount of sexual harassment that occurs. According to an article published by the Harvard Business Review in January of 2018, nearly 90% of women and 70% of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment. Those are among the highest counts of any industry.

The HBR article points to a few key factors in why these numbers are so high:

  • Men make up a large majority of management and high-paying roles in the industry. In contrast, the average new restaurant employee is a young female. Even seasoned female workers often work below male managers and make an average of $15,814 a year. This power dynamic, HBR reports, is a key reason that sexual harassment is left unchecked.
  • Another reason seems to be the long-standing idea that “the customer is always right.” In an attempt to satisfy the customer or patron, restaurant managers often tolerate harassment. Many times, front line workers fail to even mention the incidents because they themselves understand the prevalence of this mantra.
  • Finally, the HBR article points to the fact that the restaurant industry is one of “looks,” meaning that employees, especially females, are often encouraged or forced to use their looks to drive sales and customer satisfaction. A culture like that, says the article, is a sure recipe for justification of sexual harassment.

With these factors in mind, it can be jarring to think about how many times sexual harassment doesn’t get reported. Jeremy Light, co-founder of kendr and restaurant veteran chimes in about his experience in the world of food services:

I think, traditionally, restaurants have a challenge when it comes to communication. If they are fortunate enough to have an HR person, they’re often not working the same time as late-in-the-day, nightly, or weekend line workers.

A valid point. It’s difficult enough to report harassment (especially by a manager that might be privy to the report) without having to wait for hours or days just to get the chance.

Truly, restaurants are not the same as structured office environments, no matter how much they are presented as such. And that can be a good thing: more camaraderie between co-workers, a true sense of autonomy even in lower-end positions. But it can also pose significant challenges for reporting and stopping harassment. Jeremy, again:

You’re dealing with late nights, alcohol’s involved, so if you have certain managers or employees who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, issues can arise. Especially when you compare that to a 9-to-5 setting where usually, not always though, you don’t see those circumstances.

These issues need to be addressed. Here at kendr we are trying to do our part by bridging the gap between an employee and a trusted superior. We have made every effort to make reporting easier and secure for employees that struggle with harassment and other issues. But there also needs to be a change of perception and a focus brought to these issues. We need to stop letting customers’ unwanted advances slide, stop pushing the idea that someone’s looks as their only asset, and stop giving power to those that abuse it.

It’s our hope that one day, with the help of kendr and movements like #MeToo, the statistics reported in this post will be a thing of the past. Because we are better than this.

To learn more about kendr and how it can help you, please visit kendr.com.

Jeremy Light provided the quotes featured in this post. Harvard Business Review’s article was used for a majority of information.