As restaurants begin to reopen, the most important task at hand is keeping everyone safe—and that includes implicit bias and antiracist training for staff.

By Shakera Jones
July 20, 2020
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Credit: mavoimages / Adobe Stock

The restaurant business has never been more challenging. For our F&W Pro Guide to Reopening Restaurants, we've been collecting wisdom and best practices from leaders in the hospitality industry to help you navigate this unprecedented time.

On June 22, 2020, a diner named Marcia Grant posted a disturbing video of an incident that occurred at Ouzo Bay restaurant in Baltimore’s Harbor East. In the video, we see her and her seven-year-old son being denied service because the boy was wearing a t-shirt and shorts that the manager deemed to be athletic wear, which was not permitted per the restaurant's dress code. Though it was repeatedly brought to his attention that there was another (non-Black) customer, with a child, wearing the same outfit, the manager used the restaurant’s dress code policy to defend his biased and potentially racist behavior. Two managers have since separated from the company and the group has revised their dress code policy, including removing it entirely for patrons under the age of 12.

As restaurants reopen, what can owners and managers do to ensure their staff are not tasked with enforcing policies that are inherently racist? Start with these steps, and make them a non-negotiable part of your team’s culture.

Don’t tolerate bad behavior—not even once

Create a truly zero-tolerance policy for racist, sexist, and discriminatory behavior in your restaurant. This includes staff, management, and guests.

Wear your policy on your sleeve

Ensure the language of any policy such as dress code, is clear and specific. Requiring specific articles of clothing like shirts and shoes are universal. Terms like “athletic wear” “athleisure wear” and “business casual'' are subjective and can be biased and/or discriminatory.

Normalize asking names

Use consistent language when speaking to guests. Request technology partners like Tock, Resy and OpenTable modify their systems to allow your guests to enter a preferred name along with first and last name when making reservations to ensure they are addressed appropriately.

Get proactive with pronouns

Never make gender assumptions based on appearance, and provide literature on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) terms to ensure your staff understand general terms and can address guests appropriately. Asking guests for their preferred name and pronouns ensures that guests feel acknowledged and respected. The Equity Institute offers a wealth of free e-learnings and resources on their website.

Set up a system

Establish a clear protocol and action plan for staff to report sexist, racist, and discriminatory behavior without retaliation. This applies to guest reporting issues to management as well as employees reporting racist, sexist, or discriminatory behavior from guests, co-workers, or management.

Make a statement

Have a mission statement that clearly states your core values of service. Make implicit bias—attitudes towards people or associating stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge—and diversity training a part of on-boarding, as well as regular, ongoing training for staff. Host workshops, invite guest speakers, and share reading lists to educate staff on how to be aware of these biases when serving guests. Create a culture of representation and inclusivity in your staff by having transparency in your HR policies and hiring practices.

Learn from missteps

Ensure that gaslighting and dismissiveness are not encouraged or permitted. When a situation arises with a guest or staff member, use it as a teaching and learning tool.

Start a dialogue and keep it going

Have daily meetings (pre-service meetings are a good time) to discuss goals, create standards and expectations and foster open communication. Allow staff to share tips and pointers based on their experiences. Hold regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with teams.

Make your policy public

Ensure policies are clearly posted either in the restaurant or on your website for both staff and guests to review.

Grow with the flow

While your mission statement and core values should remain consistent, remain open to learning and growing to ensure your staff and your guests feel seen, welcomed and appreciated.

Get in the trenches

“Hospitality begins with self care. Caring for your team and making them feel welcomed and included creates the same energy for guests,” says Audrey Frick, Wine Director at 1 White Street (opening in fall 2020). “A management team that is present and actively listening to their team fosters a culture of inclusion throughout the restaurant. Work side by side with your staff when they are in the trenches. Get in there and polish glassware with them if needed. Show them that management is there to work with them, not above them.”

Feel good to do good

Good hospitality is all-encompassing. A staff that feels seen and heard takes pride in welcoming guests and making them feel the same way. If restaurants are unsure of how or where to begin, there are organizations out there like Diversity in Wine and Spirits, that offer a wide range of tools that aim to create an inclusive, diverse and equitable hospitality industry. Creating an equitable, anti-racist, anti-discriminatory is essential and beneficial for restaurant staff and guest and is truly the core of what hospitality should be. Cultivating a team that embodies these sentiments will ensure a highly trained staff of hospitality professionals. Creating more diverse and inclusive spaces for both guests and employees embodies the core values and spirit of hospitality. We should all strive to create spaces where everyone feels like they are welcomed and belong.

Shakera Jones is the creator of Black Girls Dine Too, community liaison for the newly-launched Black Wine Professionals, and a cast member at Somm TV. Follow her on Instagram @blackgirlsdinetoo.