Making the Hospitality Business Better for Workers Isn’t Easy. But It’s Necessary.

Illustration by Barbara Spurll

If the novel coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how many aspects of bar and restaurant work needs to be addressed.

In the hospitality business, our careers are focused on taking care of people—our patrons, our employees. We often forget to prioritize the needs of ourselves and immediate circles, placing issues that impact our day-to-day lives on the back burner.

Being in tune with our bodies and minds, and in sync with how to best take care of them, is a skill. It requires education, intention, mindfulness and the will and desire to be the best version of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair, and it certainly isn’t a process that occurs overnight. It can be emotionally draining and it takes a long time.

So, how do you set yourself up for success?

Call In / Call Out

Over the last year, social justice issues dominated conversations and needed immediate attention. People, organizations and establishments have been called out on their behavior and called in to address the harm they’ve caused within the industry.

When we call someone in, the focus should be on reflection, not reaction. We are seeking an opportunity for those who have done damage to understand or learn more about the situation at hand.

Calling someone out occurs when we need to prevent immediate harm. There are certainly moments when one may be more effective than the other.

The Drink Black Movement Must Tap the Source

The only way change will occur is if the bars, restaurants, individuals and organizations who are called in or out are held accountable by everyone in the industry. That means people in managerial roles must lead by example, be consistent and upfront about their expectations for themselves and others, and acknowledge when their behaviors cause harm.

Accountability is also especially important when we’re dealing with people in our immediate circles. They are not without flaws. As their peers and friends, it’s our responsibility to inform them when they’re wrong, not to ignore or excuse their behavior.

Setting Up Protections

Whenever we have conversations about harm or pain in the hospitality industry, it’s essential to set up “protections” for anyone who may be affected by the information being shared. Prefacing social media posts or staff meetings with trigger or content warnings goes a long way.

Consider what resources or programs could be helpful to provide after difficult conversations. If you’re discussing legal advocacy or state-specific information for victims of sexual assault or violence, for example, I would recommend referencing the NWLC (National Women’s Law Center), which also works with male-identifying individuals, or RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

In clinical settings, trauma-informed care acknowledges the need to understand a patient’s life experiences. Respecting and anticipating the needs of those around you can improve your engagement and outcome, not to mention your staff’s overall wellness.

Establishing Effective Boundaries

What behaviors violate your safety and the safety of others? Is it a bar patron who unnecessarily touches your staff, or a colleague who tells off-color jokes after closing? Be firm, fair, and direct about what you need and want to create boundaries for yourself.

Boundaries are not requests. They are necessities. And the point of them is to stop harm. If harm still occurs, then those boundaries are not yet in place.

Bars and Restaurants Have a Chance to Change for the Better. Will They Take It?

Harm and Humility

When harm occurs, it’s essential to acknowledge it. Otherwise, it’s impossible to reconcile.

If you’ve caused harm to others, be clear about the purpose of your messaging, who you have caused harm to and the next steps that you will take to address it. The most impactful thing you can do is lean into humility and the lesson that was learned. Dismantle any harmful behavior to ensure it doesn’t continue.

We’re Only Human

We are human. We will cause harm.

However, it’s important to acknowledge when these behaviors exhibit patterns. To truly implement change, we need to be open to addressing harmful behaviors, patterns and systems. This work is emotionally difficult, and can sometimes be humiliating, and that’s okay. It sometimes requires us to look within ourselves to see how we can be better.

Be kind to yourself, and take it one day at a time.

For more essays by drinks professionals, visit Outpourings: Industry Voices.

Published on June 30, 2021
Topics: Outpourings