That there’s abuse behind the scenes in restaurant isn’t news. Within the chef community, the news is that people are surprised to hear about it.

The true scale of the issue has yet to be revealed, though it’s been hinted at in details of the behavior of some of the country’s highest-profile food figures, such as Spotted Pig restaurateur Ken Friedman and chefs John Besh and Mario Batali. Accounts include incidents of groping, stalking, abuse, and even industry blackmail. Almost everyone agrees this is just the beginning.

The potential price tag for these harassment cases to restaurants is quite large. In 2014, P.F. Chang’s paid almost $1 million to two women over harassment claims. In addition to payments, brands experience ripple effects: Batali’s products, such as tomato sauce and cookbooks, have been pulled off the shelves at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., and even Eataly, in which Batali holds an ownership stake.

According to Myles Share of Myles Share and Associates, one of the New York’s biggest restaurant-insurance providers, the landscape has changed drastically—in a lasting manner, he hopes—following the recent rush of scandals. "In the past decade, I can count on one hand the number of sexual harassment lawsuits I've covered. After last week, things will be different," says Share. He predicts that Employee Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), which covers charges over sexual harrassment, discrimination, and wages, plus hourly legal fees, will become much more popular. Currently, EPLI coverage costs at least $100 per employee per year; a business with 100 employees would cost at least $10,000 for insurance, annually. “Five years ago, 20 percent of our clients had EPLI coverage," says Share. "By the end of 2018, I'd say 80 percent of our clients will have secured coverage." Restaurant consultant Stephen Loffredo, of Seasoned Hospitality Strategy and Management notes that the $100 per person figure can be higher if there have been previous settlements.

Loffredo has a 60-page handbook he provides clients that includes proprietary templates with sexual harassment clauses on how to report any inappropriate behavior to management. He’s owned a version of it since he opened his former restaurant, Zoe, in 1992 in New York. “I came from the hotel industry, where these types of documents were standard. It becomes more necessary in the restaurant every day,” he says. “Now—even at small, casual operations—you need to have {human resources] policies in place. It has become 100 percent necessary.”

Not every restaurant business sees the answer as more rules and insurance coverage; Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, a company that has been vocal about its emphasis on employee well-being, has opted to start round tables in the wake of the stories that have surfaced. USHG recently hosted its first, inviting company women and men at all levels to talk with Meyer, Chief Culture Officer Erin Moran, and other members of the management committee.

Training, Training, Training
Other chefs were working to put systems in place long before the recent rash of allegations and reports. For Martha Hoover of the Patachou Restaurant Group in Indianapolis, culture training is so essential that her orientation can stretch to three weeks. It focuses on respecting colleagues. Before she got into the restaurant business, Hoover worked in the sex crimes unit of the prosecutor’s office in Indianapolis.  “I’m fully aware of how women are treated and how the restaurant system rarely protects them,” she says. “I put money in the front end to retain employees and make sure everyone feels safe.”

Key to her philosophy is instantaneous response, coupled with an intensity that comes from prosecuting crimes.  “We should all stop saying, ‘I’m sorry you feel offended.’ My position is: ‘You’re offended; let’s address the person who offended you right this minute.’”

When Alex Stupak opened 160-seat Empellon Midtown in New York earlier this year, he created the position of director of human resources as part of growing his company. Counting this as a prescient move, he has since added an annual, mandatory anti-harassment training seminar that will take place at each of his three restaurants. (He estimates the cost at $15,000). “I want everyone to know what harassment means,” Stupak says. “Now is the time to talk about it.”

In 2016, California began requiring mandatory sexual harassment training for company supervisors. Caroline Styne, who employs about 400 people at her L.A. restaurants, including A.O.C. and Tavern, was ahead of the curve. Since 1998, when she and chef Suzanne Goin opened their first restaurant, Lucques, she’s had a handbook that addresses the problem of sexual harassment, among other issues. “We’re a women-owned business and conscious of every single thing. The minute any employee relates an experience that might be inappropriate, we investigate. There’s no gray area,” she says. Over time, the Lucques Group has added a human resources attorney and a human resources adviser to the roster, and the handbook has grown to 50 pages. “There’s not a ton of sexual harassment issues. We did fire a chef for inappropriate behavior at a holiday party. Now, we don’t have any more holiday parties.”

First « 1 2 » Next