Leading by example: make bullying and harassment in hospitality the exception, not the rule

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Recent events are a bitter reminder that while the hospitality industry is more progressive than it once was, some have found it harder to adapt to social change.

Historically, restaurants have fostered some inappropriate behaviours. But when we consider these issues, it’s also important not to give in to journalistic sensationalism,ignoring what makes the industry a great place to work.

We spoke to chefs Danielle Barry and Adrian Oliver, assistant restaurant manager Karen Gruet, journalist Victoria Stewart, and food critic Joe Warwick, about the practices that have stained the industry’s reputation.

We asked them to share their experiences, and questioned what they think should be done to eradicate abuse in hospitality. 

Change takes time

In the past, kitchens mostly employed men, encouraging a macho culture. Coded respect for hierarchy meant it was difficult to stand up to a colleague, let alone a manager, and we took for granted that inappropriate behaviour towards women was just part of the job.

“A lot of men used to get bullied when I worked in restaurants,” Joe Warwick told The Staff Canteen. The stereotype of chefs screaming at young commis chefs or waiters appears true to life.

Danielle Barry, head chef at Balloo House, said that while working conditions have improved, “there’s always been what people call ‘lads' banter’” in the kitchen.

What’s more, restaurant employment is unique in that the lines between work and social life often get blurred. “That doesn’t really happen in your average office environment,” Warwick said. “Apart from the Christmas party, when of course, there’s always some idiot that photocopies their arse or whatever.”

Serious incidents are fewer and farther between than before. Both Danni Barry and Karen Gruet said they have never experienced bullying or harassment at work.

But, for Adrian Oliver, this makes it even more disappointing when bad behaviour in the industry makes the headlines. “And it brings the dinosaurs out of the woodwork a little bit," he said.

“You have these guys commenting things like ‘well, it’s only kitchen banter and if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ It’s nonsense.”

“When you have a young guy who’s making his way, doing really good stuff - and it’s not whether it’s true or not, he’s put himself into a position where these accusations can be made, and you think ‘really?’ I thought kitchens had moved on a little bit.”

Speak up

Perhaps the question isn’t whether hospitality is worse than any other industry, because it is hard to measure social interaction. And while lamenting how far restaurants and kitchens must go to address their issues is important, constructive things must be done.

Danni Barry cited Chef’s Network in Ireland as an independent body that people can speak to, if they have issues at work. Another such initiative, spearheaded by freelance journalist Victoria Stewart, is Hospitality Speaks.

The non-profit, launching in March this year, will provide an online platform for hospitality workers to anonymously share their experiences and seek advice. Rather than focus on the negative, the website will feature tips for employers to help improve their practices, and shine a light on good companies.

As well as the online platform, the group will host 'intimate' discussions, panel talks and roundtables, inviting journalists to the latter.

"What we'd love is for there not to be another headline that says, 'there's a load of toxic behaviour that goes on' - the aim is to try and move away from that,"  said Victoria Stewart.

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Hospitality Speaks, launching in March, will give people an outlet to share their experiences

Some are already doing their part. For instance, at Le Manoir and at Restaurant Sat Bains, staff are encouraged to give feedback and speak about their problems, Gruet explained. This is especially important with younger staff, she said, “because some of the people that work for us, this is their first job.”

For Joe Warwick, increasing the diversity in our kitchens – namely, by encouraging more women to become chefs – will, and has already, brought about change. “Since there have been more women, the atmosphere has changed, it’s become less macho, people have to check their behaviour and what they’re saying on a regular basis – not to portray women as wallflowers who can’t hear jokes or bad language, because that’s bullshit as well.”

But, he said, the issue of harassment will only be addressed if men can call out other men for bad practices, too. “The idea that the only people that get annoyed about this stuff are other women to me seems a little bit flawed. I think there's a lot of men that genuinely get upset about it because they've got wives, they've got daughters, they've got friends that have been put through a lot of hassle with this stuff.”

Adrian Oliver agreed that, as a father, his role is to give his children the confidence and the knowledge to know when to speak up.“If we give them the confidence to stand up and say something as soon as it happens, so it’s addressed as soon as it happens, then the dinosaurs may actually wake up,” he said.

“I know it sounds a bit twee, but be nice to people. Treat them like members of your family and not just objects of desire. Just treat people nicely, the world will be a much better place.”

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 11th February 2019

Leading by example: make bullying and harassment in hospitality the exception, not the rule