February 5

How Restaurants Can Prevent Sexual Harassment

Restaurant owners and managers can prepare employees with tools to identify and oppose acts of sexual harassment, promoting a safer workplace for their staff and the industry at large.

#MeToo and #TimesUp continue to bring awareness to the reality of sexual harassment in the workplace of many industries — including the restaurant world. With a growing recognition of the problem and with the desire for change, many restaurants are participating in the conversation by taking actions to contribute to a better, safer industry. Restaurants can be an example to other professions when we encourage employees through inclusiveness and support. We all can take steps to make positive change in our industry, so here are some ways restaurant owners and managers can promote a safer work environment for everyone.



Sexual harassment is multifaceted and at times hard to discern. Because of this, owners and managers should make the effort to educate their staff and themselves on what sexual harassment is, what steps to take when it happens, and what outside resources are available.

To help start the conversation, you can find educational material like posters or handbooks to use in team meetings and make available in your establishment. The bi-annual magazine, Cherry Bomb, has a sexual harassment poster created by restaurateur Karen Leibowitz and designed by Kelli Anderson for sale online or free for download. The poster defines sexual harassment, lists steps to take when sexual harassment happens and offers resources. In an interview in The New Yorker, Leibowitz states the goal behind the poster “…is to make institutional anti-harassment messages so ubiquitous that if someone showed up for her first day of work at a restaurant and didn’t see a poster on display, she’d consider it a red flag.”

Having a poster or guide accessible in your establishment can serve as a reminder to yourself and your staff that sexual harassment exists, that it’s not tolerated and that resources are available if something happens. For employers, presenting something official can help in delivering a straightforward message and prevent any confusion on your position regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.  



“Listen to your staff, your staff is valuable to the insight of the culture. Listen to the folks on the floor.”

Contacting a third-party to train your whole team on sexual harassment is another step toward creating a safer work environment for your establishment. Not OK PDX, a Portland, OR non-profit, visits businesses to conduct workshops called SaferBars. The workshops are designed to create honest conversations about sexual harassment inside and outside the hospitality industry. The non-profit and workshop was founded in 2016 by a small group of bartenders and social workers. They began training local bars, but have since expanded their workshops to all businesses, especially where alcohol is served.  

Not OK PDX’s SaferBars workshops apply lectures, role-play and discussion to train staff and management on how to recognize sexual harassment and how to safely intervene when they see signs of unwanted behavior between customers or co-workers. “I think a lot of places have employee handbooks that say something specific about harassment from one employee to another, but they don’t necessarily cover how to handle a situation where the problem is in fact a customer,” said Not OK PDX Co-Founder Jessica Rosengrant. “The goal is to come up with individual policies that fit and make sense — that everyone is cool with.”

During the workshop, Rosengrant facilitates a conversation allowing the whole team to participate in discussing and creating policies they agree on as a group. Attendance by owners and management is essential to the workshop. “Listen to your staff,” Rosengrant suggests. “Your staff is valuable to the insight of the culture, listen to the folks on the floor.” By listening to your team and including them in the conversation on developing a safer environment, staff will feel more empowered, included and supported. Bystander intervention has been recognized as an effective form of sexual harassment training because it offers methods others can use to intervene when they see sexual harassment happening — preparing them to act as allies to those experiencing it. 



Creating a safer work environment starts by having your staff’s back, even when it involves a customer. In an interview with Eater, Black Acre Brewing Company’s founder Jordan Gleason states, “If you don’t feel like management supports you in dealing with a customer harassing you, you don’t think they’ll deal with it when it’s another co-worker.”  You can show support by having team meetings to check in on your staff or take the time to talk about sexual harassment. It’s essential to lay out your policies and communicate that you’re open to talk if there are concerns. When you hire, lay out your values clearly from the beginning so there’s no confusion. Let new hires know that they can come to you for any reason.

As an owner or manager, you have influence on the culture of your establishment.  If you see something inappropriate, address it. Set an example for your staff so that they know when they have an issue, you will be available, receptive and supportive. One of the greatest things you can do to promote a safer environment is the one thing that doesn’t cost anything but your time — supporting your staff.

The actions you take as an owner or manager to create a safer work environment don’t just impact your establishment, they can have a growing impact on the industry as a whole. When you educate, train and support your staff you are providing them with tools to identify and oppose acts of sexual harassment. These are methods they can use in their next job, whether that’s in a restaurant, bar, or new industry altogether — hopefully setting examples for others to follow.

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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