What Restaurant Managers Can Do About Employee Harassment

What Restaurant Managers Can Do About Employee Harassment

Workplace harassment is a serious issue that is uncomfortable to discuss. Because of this it’s often swept under the rug. Recent high profile harassment cases in the media have brought attention to this disturbing issue.

This guide to dealing with employee harassment in the restaurant industry will help managers:

  • Understand the issue of workplace harassment
  • How to define and identify harassing behaviors
  • What you can do to combat restaurant harassment

It’s important to take a hard line against harassment and police employee behaviors diligently so that a culture of bullying doesn’t take hold.

As a restaurant manager you are a leader. Your obligation is to get out in front of the issue and protect your workers. This guide to what restaurant managers can do about employee harassment will help.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

Restaurant Workers Report High Levels of Harassment

A recent report found that 90% of women and 70% of men working in the restaurant industry have been sexually harassed at work.

While these numbers are disturbingly high, only a fraction of incidents are actually reported. Often restaurant workers who face harassment don’t feel supported by management and choose to leave the environment rather than fight.

Harassment is Bad for Business

One of the primary contributing factors to the extremely high restaurant turnover rates is likely harassment from both co-workers and guests, and the lack of support in these instances from management. If you want to keep good staff in your restaurant, management must work against harassment, discrimination, and bullying.

Additionally, workplace harassment lawsuits can be very time-consuming and expensive for restaurants. Can you afford the legal fees, fines and damage to your reputation because you allowed worker harassment to take place in your restaurant?

What kinds of harassment do workers face?

According to Phillips & Associates, a NYC law firm:

"A hostile work environment typically arises when you receive unwanted verbal or physical conduct that interferes with your ability to do your job, whether that is serving or cooking.

For example, if you are an assistant and the cook you work for is constantly making sexual comments or gestures that keep you from effectively cooking or doing other work tasks, this may be a hostile work environment.”

While the legal definitions of harassment and your state’s labor laws are outside the scope of this article, this quote gives us a place to start.

Harassment Is No Laughing Matter

It’s important to note that behavior that some may see as “joking”, “teasing” and “banter” can easily cross the line into harassment. When the ribbing interferes with a restaurant worker’s ability to do their job it’s no longer just a joke.

But co-workers taking banter and teasing too far isn’t the only kind of harassment staff are subject to.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

Tipping Isn’t A License To Do Whatever You Want

Servers work with the public and receive tips. For some guests this power dynamic can bring out the worst in them. Tipped employees are less likely to rebuff sexual and other types of harassment from patrons for fear of losing the tips they depend on.

Additionally, patrons drinking alcohol might feel a lack of inhibition, treating your staff poorly, engaging in inappropriate comments and unwanted touching.

In an environment where the focus is on creating a pleasant experience for guests, your server’s friendly service emboldens some restaurant customers to act at the level of harassment. In these situations your staff may feel that reporting incidents of inappropriate touching to management won’t be taken seriously, especially if the customer is a friend of managers, owners or a regular.

Do What’s Right Or Get Fined

This was the situation for workers at a Florida hot wings restaurant. After a long string of abuses they finally reported numerous incidents to the labor board. The restaurant was saddled with a $200,000 settlement. The courts admonished the restaurant for failure to step in and protect servers from guest harassment.

Restaurant management is required to provide a safe working environment for staff, and a failure to do so can end up costing a business greatly. There is no employee valuable enough to allow them to harass co-workers and no VIP guest worth this kind of financial trouble.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

Action Steps to Fight Restaurant Harassment

To protect your staff and yourself from the consequences of endemic restaurant harassment create an action plan. Establish a clear anti-harassment policy for your restaurant.

  • Work with the local department of labor to understand your legal obligation to preventing employee harassment. Every municipality is subject to different requirements so make sure you are clear.
  • Develop a training plan for managers and employees that sets expectations for employee conduct. Make sure that all current and incoming employees know what’s acceptable and what is not.
  • Train managers how to respond to and investigate reports of potential harassment from co-workers. Show your team that management takes harassment seriously. This will help victims feel safe when reporting incidents.
  • When managers observe interactions that approach the level of harassment, step in before it escalates. Discriminatory or sexual jokes and teasing can easily increase to bullying if left unchecked.
  • Set an example of good conduct for your employees. Model the standards you’ve set. Don’t make jokes at others’ expense. If you don’t take anti-harassment policies seriously your staff won’t either.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure


Harassment is endemic in the restaurant industry. Much of it is due to workers feeling unsupported by management on issues of harassment. This creates a toxic work environment that encourages bullying and discrimination.

There are serious legal consequences to allowing harassment in your restaurant. There is no team member or guest valuable enough to allow ongoing harassing behavior. If it is not addressed it’s just a matter of time before the restaurant is penalized.

Establish anti-harassment policies and clear expectations for staff conduct. Do not participate in harassing behaviors yourself. As a manager it is your obligation to create a safe environment for your employees to perform their best.

This free guide to what restaurant managers can do about employee harassment is part of the Rezku resource library for restaurant management. Rezku is a leading developer of hospitality management solutions. To learn more about Rezku visit our homepage.

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