Monday, May 21, 2018
Deals & Shopping

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a host and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and they demanded she point out the culprit. Turns out, it was a regular customer. According to Terry, he was not reprimanded, nor ejected from the establishment.

Terry, 32, has worked in kitchens, in dining rooms and behind the bar. She has been a bartender at Ciroís, the Bricks and Fodder & Shine in Tampa and the Mill in St. Petersburg. She is the president of the Tampa chapter of the United State Bartending Guild. She said she has been sexually harassed in many forms in every work environment she has ever been in, usually by customers.

"Iím numb to it," she said. "I expect that behavior and allow it to roll off my back. Is that the best course of action? Iím not sure," she said, adding that bartending while female has additional challenges. "If you want to be a female bartender you need to be hot and you need to smile. Iíve known female bartenders who have been fired for not smiling enough."

In recent months, American women have stopped smiling.

The number of powerful men brought down by sexual assault accusations is growing daily. Hollywood, news media and Capitol Hill have all been dramatically affected by these accusations. But thereís one industry that may trump them all.

The food industry ó restaurants, hotels and other hospitality establishments ó accounted for 14.2 percent of sexual harassment claims filed to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 2005 to 2015, the highest of all fields. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the food services industry accounts for just 7.2 percent of the total workforce. By comparison, health care jobs accounted for 11.5 percent of claims and the construction industry accounted for 2.5 percent.

In the past weeks, famous chefs including John Besh, Mario Batali and Spotted Pig owner Ken Friedman have stepped away from their restaurant empires as accusations of sexual impropriety have emerged. On Thursday, the James Beard Foundation, which has awarded honors to Batali, Besh and Friedman, announced it was reviewing policies "to ensure the integrity of our programs."

A statement read: "We do not condone any behavior contrary to the values of good leadership that our awards represent or that in any way thwarts the opportunity for everyone in our industry to thrive."

But itís not only famous people, and itís not only chefs and itís not only hospitality industry workers preying upon fellow employees. According to a 2014 Restaurant Opportunities Centers United report about sexual harassment, 78 percent of restaurant workers had been harassed at one time by a customer.

It seems the food industry is a Petri dish uniquely hospitable to sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior and missed social cues. Itís an industry fueled by adrenaline, late nights and alcohol, one in which servers, 71 percent female, are often encouraged or mandated to dress in an alluring manner. Itís an industry that often functions as the fiefdom of a chef/owner, workplace culture and mores established by the "king." Often without a human resources apparatus, itís an industry in which deep-seated animosities simmer between the back of the house (kitchen) and the front (service staff).

Then, add in this hackneyed credo: The customer is always right.

Jessika Palombo owns the Reading Room in St. Petersburg with her partner, chef Lauren Macellaro. Palombo in the front of the house, Macellaro in the back, they bring different perspectives to flaws in the industry.

"For me, personally, it has always been a male-dominated space where thereís a mismatch of respect," Palombo said. "Iíve been spoken to in very inappropriate ways and never had the strength or the need to go to someone higher. Now I hear all this stuff coming out and Iím asking, should I have gone to someone?"

Itís an age-old situation, she said. Customers request certain servers, often based on looks. As minimum wage workers (for tipped workers, thatís now $5.08 per hour in Florida), itís in your best interest to be super friendly. Your tip depends on it. This can lead to misunderstandings and crossed boundaries.

Inappropriate language is common in many kitchens, Macellaro said, but itís a chefís job to create kitchen culture.

"In a lot of the kitchens Iíve worked in, the guys in the kitchen talk about the servers, about the way they look. If someone in the kitchen is saying something about a serverís (butt), theyíre saying it to someone else. That person needs to speak up."

Knives and fire, long hours and tight spaces that donít allow for traditional physical boundaries, the industry draws workers, said Noel Cruz, co-owner of Ichicoro in Tampa and the new Ichicoro Ane in St. Petersburg, with a culture of "work hard/play hard."

"In a restaurant, weíre creating a party every night," he said. "Even if there are rigid operational standards, I think thereís a lot of casualness as well. Everyone is here to have a good time, and that permeates the employee side. It has bred a culture of Ďno barriersí and Ďanything goes.í The lines between a joke and seriousness are very blurred. If you get offended, I was only kidding. Nobody thinks theyíre doing anything wrong. Thatís part of the root of the problem."

In his response to the allegations first reported by Eater, Batali also said as much.

"We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge," Batali said in a statement. "But I took that too far in my own behavior."

Change will be slow and painful, in the restaurant industry and elsewhere, Cruz said.

"I think a lot of people are being given bigger voices and things are bubbling up fast," he said. "But itís such an ingrained way that things have been done."

The challenge, especially for an independent restaurant or small restaurant group, is having the necessary staff and allocation of leadership time to continually deal with these kinds of issues, said Maryann Ferenc, CEO of Mise en Place Inc., the company behind Tampaís celebrated Mise en Place restaurant and other culinary businesses.

"Weíve continued to ramp up our policies and procedures," she said. "Itís all about communication and spending more time with people. If youíre paying attention, you have noted the change in the industry over the past few years. You as a chef/owner have to understand your artistic power differently from other kinds of power.

"The ability to use intimidation to run your kitchen is no longer the way. This is a new age."

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

 
Comments
Meet beauty influencer Nicol Concilio and drop anchor at Ship Chicís block party

Meet beauty influencer Nicol Concilio and drop anchor at Ship Chicís block party

BEAUTY INFLUENCER: MEET NICOL CONCILIOThanks to the magic of the internet, self-taught beauty vloggers have become so influential that major cosmetics brands are teaming up with them to create special products. One such vlogger is Nicol Concilio, who...
Published: 05/17/18
Plan your weekend May 18-20: Royal wedding watch parties, David Koechner, Fiesta Maxima, half off Dali admission

Plan your weekend May 18-20: Royal wedding watch parties, David Koechner, Fiesta Maxima, half off Dali admission

What's happening this weekend in Tampa Bay.
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Ticket window: Christina Aguilera, Shawn Mendes, Dierks Bentley and Paul Anka on sale this week

Ticket window: Christina Aguilera, Shawn Mendes, Dierks Bentley and Paul Anka on sale this week

Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:ē Wiz Khalifa, 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Tampa, $29-$125.95, on sale at noon Friday at the box office, 4802 U.S. 301 N, and via Ticketmaster at Ticketmaster.com, ...
Published: 05/16/18
5 things to do under $5: Bike to Work Day, Woofstock, Leonard Bernstein celebration

5 things to do under $5: Bike to Work Day, Woofstock, Leonard Bernstein celebration

1Bike to Work Day: If youíre too nervous to face Tampa streets on your own, seven neighborhood meetup locations have been set up in South Tampa, Ybor and Tampa Heights for a Friday morning ride with experienced cyclists. Leaving at about 7:10 a.m., t...
Published: 05/16/18
Romaine lettuce illnesses are now in Florida. What does it mean for Tampa Bay?

Romaine lettuce illnesses are now in Florida. What does it mean for Tampa Bay?

Caesar salad fans, youíre not going to like this.Eating romaine lettuce has been a no-no for about two months, when a string of related food poisonings emerged around the country. Until now, Florida has been mostly unaffected.But an update Wednesday ...
Published: 05/11/18
Get your vintage fix at Wood Paper Stone, the Wedding Flea returns and a Motherís Day market

Get your vintage fix at Wood Paper Stone, the Wedding Flea returns and a Motherís Day market

VINTAGE FIX: WOOD PAPER STONEA big shout-out to Facebook for introducing me to Wood Paper Stone. The new boutique in the Skyway Marina Mall is home to the vintage collection of Fabulous Artifacts, a.k.a. Lisa Lippincott. Just scrolling through the Fa...
Published: 05/10/18
Plan your weekend May 11-13: Mother’s Day fun, AirFest, Third Eye Blind, Darci Lynne Farmer, Florida Orchestra salutes Michael Jackson

Plan your weekend May 11-13: Mother’s Day fun, AirFest, Third Eye Blind, Darci Lynne Farmer, Florida Orchestra salutes Michael Jackson

Plan your weekend † Holiday Mother’s Day: While breakfast in bed and a bunch of flowers are nice, consider treating your mother to a day of fun together this Sunday. Mom can get in free with a paid loved one for a range of experiences, from...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/11/18
5 things to do under $5: Free tours of Bok Tower Gardens, Florida Orchestra for kids, Family Tennis Festival

5 things to do under $5: Free tours of Bok Tower Gardens, Florida Orchestra for kids, Family Tennis Festival

1 National Public Gardens Day: The American Public Gardens Association provides up to four free passes to Bok Tower Gardens per person. Located about 25 miles southeast of Lakeland, the lush tropical garden and bird sanctuary was opened nearly 90 yea...
Published: 05/09/18
Mother's Day free admissions, brunches and more in Tampa Bay

Mother's Day free admissions, brunches and more in Tampa Bay

Sunday is Mother’s Day, and it’s all about the women who gave us life, good advice and the occasional stink-eye when we needed it. If you are scratching your head about what to get dear old Mom, relax. We got you. While breakfast in bed ...
Published: 05/08/18
Updated: 05/10/18
Ticket window: Pink, J. Cole, Pablo Cruise, Scott Stapp, Star Wars Live tickets on sale this week

Ticket window: Pink, J. Cole, Pablo Cruise, Scott Stapp, Star Wars Live tickets on sale this week

Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:ē Pink, 7:30 p.m. March 3 at Amalie Arena, Tampa, $47.45-$207.45, on sale at 10 a.m. Friday at the box office, 401 Channelside Drive (walk-up only), and through Ticketmaster at Ticketmaster.com, o...
Published: 05/03/18
Updated: 05/09/18