How the John Besh Allegations Are Prompting Restaurants to Reevaluate Their Own Policies
"The industry is full of easily victimized people, and thus we have to protect them."
This week, Hugh Acheson is sitting down to work on his restaurant group's harassment policy. It's already pretty strong, says the Five & Ten chef-owner and former Food & Wine Best New Chef. But in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal involving celebrity chef John Besh that's rocked the industry, restaurant industry leaders say they want to be clear about where they're coming from. "To me it comes down to how you wield your power,” he says. “I choose to empower people, to make them stronger and provide them with a safe environment to work in."
On Saturday, The Times-Picayune published a story by the publication's restaurant critic, Brett Anderson, detailing sexual harassment allegations from 25 current and former employees of the Besh Restaurant Group—including allegations levied against its founder, celebrity chef John Besh. The fallout from the story was swift—by Monday, the Besh Restaurant Group announced that its namesake founder was stepping down from all operations in order to “focus on his family.”
“I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do,” Besh said in a statement to The Times-Picayune. "I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings.”
That same day, Eater Chicago senior editor Ashok Selvam broke the news that Publican chef Cosmo Goss and Publican Anker general manager Antonio Molina had been fired from their restaurants for failing to take disciplinary action and alert the company’s human resources department when a “personal” and “inappropriate” photograph of a female employee was circulated among staff members without her consent. "One Off has an open-door policy, and it’s our responsibility to address instances of inappropriate workplace conduct thoroughly and with zero tolerance,” a representative for One Off says in a statement. “In addition to this, we require that all of our managers participate in mandatory anti-harassment training." The company also sent a memo to staff this week encouraging them to step forward with any concerns.
In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, Goss said the event was a “fleeting moment that was wholly unprofessional and unacceptable,” adding: “I regret not doing enough to address the issue, and I am deeply sorry to the woman portrayed in the photograph and the other individuals whom these consequences have affected.”
Anderson’s report brought to light the fact that until October 11 of this year, Besh Restaurant Group did not have a human resources employee to whom such a complaint could have been filed. (The company announced Monday that Shannon White would be promoted to the role of CEO and she has published a statement detailing the company's outside review process of the allegations, as well as steps to improve corporate culture moving forward.) This revelation has sent shockwaves throughout the industry, and many restaurants and restaurant groups—with and without official (and pricey) HR departments—are using these incidents as an opportunity to reflect, react, and publicly define their policies on workplace harassment and their commitment to creating a culture that’s inclusive and respectful of all its workers in the front and back of the house, starting from the top down.
Restaurant Iris and Second Line chef-owner Kelly English on Monday shared a shift in company policy that would no longer permit employees to drink alcohol on premises on days that they work. “I understand that that this new policy may be unpopular, but I am more committed than ever to make this a great and safe place to work, and the consumption of alcohol does neither of those,” English wrote in a statement posted on Facebook and Instagram. His note also spells out a zero-tolerance policy for harassment on any front and provides clear channels of communication for employees with any complaints or concerns. He told Food & Wine in a text message that he made the policy public because: “I truly believe if you have a voice that for whatever reason people listen to and you don’t actively stand up for what is right then you are just as wrong.”
Acheson agrees with English’s stance, noting in an email to Food & Wine: “Our drink policy is no shift drinks. We ain't a club for employees. Period." adding, "The industry is full of easily victimized people, and thus we have to protect them."
Refining and executing this is a challenge, Acheson says, when a restaurateur's empire expands from a single location to a group. "You need systems. Systems need accessible independent incident reporting and objective judgements when it comes to harassment issues. Objective outcomes do not toe the line of bro culture and whack allegiance to a chef. There should not be a grey area in terms of harassment." His mandate for anyone in his employ: "Be a good human."
These written policies must be backed by mentorship and constant (if sometimes uncomfortable) conversations, says AC Restaurants chef-owner Ashley Christensen, and they must occur at all levels. "As an industry, we have to make an intense cultural shift. We have to address the inappropriateness that our industry has tolerated and fostered (through not addressing it, and chalking it up folks 'just joking around') for decades,” she says in a message to Food & Wine. “Lewd language and behavior is so often overlooked or tolerated in restaurants and as leaders, we have to take the steps to cleanse our industry of this."
To put this into action, Christensen says, leaders in her company don't only communicate these beliefs to staffers who report to them—they initiate direct conversations with visiting chefs and beverage professionals and don't mince words. A recent email to cooks collaborating on a recent fundraiser stated in part: "So, in the spirit of over-communicating in the name of progress: AC Restaurants has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment or any form of bullying, which extends to innuendo, dirty jokes, and inappropriate language or contact."
Big Jones chef-owner Paul Fehribach has seen something of a shift since his years starting out as a server, but believes that there is still tremendous room for change. "I am one of the lucky ones in that I had to endure some harassing behavior when I was a server in college, my experiences were comparatively insignificant to the many horrific stories I've read from friends, loved ones, and strangers recently. I have been bullied; most everyone has that pulled on them at one time or another," he says in an email to Food & Wine.
And as an industry leader and employer, Fehribach believes it is his duty to ensure the safety the people who work for him. "Having spent thirty years in the industry, I am also cognizant that many restaurant employees come from vulnerable populations, and they deserve a work environment in which they are safe and not exploited. We've always worked really hard to make Big Jones a great restaurant, and a rewarding place to work, but in my heart I don't believe any business is great unless their employees are safe and valued as human beings." This includes having an anti-harassment policy that specifically spells out protections that aren't just based on gender, race, and religion, but also gender identity. "In recent years I have become cognizant of the many privileges I enjoy and that motivates me to work for true equality for all people," he says. Part of that comes from making this language public.
"I was like, who doesn't have, communicate, and enforce these policies these days? Apparently a lot of people," Fehribach says. "In all the ways our industry must change, this is perhaps the biggest one."
Need somewhere to start? These restaurants and hospitality groups have offered their own policies for other businesses to use as inspiration:
Biscuit Love is committed to providing all employees the opportunity to pursue excellence in their careers and professional endeavors. This can only exist when each person is assured an atmosphere of mutual respect, one in which they are judged solely on criteria related to job performance.
Biscuit Love is committed to providing a work environment that is free of unlawful discrimination and harassment. Each person in the organization is responsible for fostering mutual respect, for being familiar with this policy, and for refraining from conduct that violates this policy.
Biscuit Love prohibits harassment of any employee by any other employee based on sex, national origin, race, color, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability or citizenship status. Harassment cannot always be precisely de ned, but, for example, sexual harassment may include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature such as sexually-related comments or physical contact. No member of management, supervisor or other employee has any authority to engage in or subject you to any such harassment.
If you feel you have been subjected to harassment, you should immediately report the matter to your General Manager. Prompt, effective, corrective action will be taken against any individual found to have engaged in such harassment, up to and including termination of employment. Biscuit Love recognizes there may be times when your General Manager is unavailable, or when it would be inappropriate or unsafe to report the conduct to that individual, or he/she has not responded to your report appropriately. In these situations, Biscuit Love asks that you contact this toll free and anonymous hotline: 1-877-773-1353.
There will be no retaliation against employees who report harassment or employees who may have witnessed harassment. Their identities and statements will be kept con dential to the extent that con dentiality is consistent with a thorough investigation. Follow-up inquiries will be made to ensure that harassment has not resumed and retaliation has not occurred.
Employees who may feel they have been subjected to harassment by individuals who are not employed by Biscuit Love should also report the matter. Harassment by non-employees will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and the degree of corrective action will depend on the particular situation, including the extent to which Biscuit Love can control or deter such conduct on the part of non-employees.
Five & Ten
It is this Five & Ten's policy to treat all personnel with dignity and respect and make personnel decisions without regard to race, sex, age, color, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or disability. We strive to provide everyone a workplace that is free of harassment of any kind. Employees are encouraged to promptly report incidents of harassment.
All of our employees have a right to be free from sexual harassment. Five & Ten does not condone actions, words, jokes or comments that a reasonable person would regard as sexually harassing or coercive.
DEFINITION OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Sexual harassment encompasses any sexual attention, from either gender, that is unwanted and is defined as unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
- Submission is made as an express or implied term or condition of employment or status in a class, program or activity.
- Submission to or rejection of the behavior is used to make an employment or educational decision (such as hiring, promotion or grading a course).
- The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a person's work or educational performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for work or learning, including harassment in the workplace from an outside party, such as a vendor. Sexual harassment may take many forms, for example:
● Physical assault.
● Direct or implied threats that submission to sexual advances will be a condition of employment, work schedule, promotion, job assignments, evaluation, wages or any other condition of employment.
● Direct propositions of a sexual nature.
● Comments of a sexual nature.
● Sexually explicit statements, questions, jokes or anecdotes.
● Unnecessary touching, patting, hugging or brushing against a person's body.
● Remarks of a sexual nature about a person's clothing, body, sexual activity or previous sexual experience.
Employees need to be concerned not only with the intent of their actions of this kind but also the effects; while sexual harassment involves repeated, unwanted sexual attention, persons involved in isolated or inadvertent incidents demonstrate insensitivity toward others. Repeated occurrences will be considered intentional violations of the policy. Anyone who feels it necessary to discuss what may appear to be sexual harassment should report the harassment promptly to at least two people who are in a supervisory or management capacity. Your report will be kept as confidential as possible. A prompt and thorough investigation will be made. If a claim is substantiated, the Company will take immediate and appropriate action, including discipline and possible termination.
21c Hotels and Restaurants
6.0 Policy Against Sexual Harassment
21c is firmly committed to a policy against discrimination in employment, and to the right of all teammates to work in an environment free of harassment and intimidation. The Company commits to providing a workplace free of sexual harassment (which includes harassment based on gender, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions), as well as harassment based on such factors as race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, family care or medical leave status, or veteran status.
21c strongly disapproves of and will not tolerate harassment of teammates by managers, supervisors, or co-workers. 21c also will attempt to protect teammates in the workplace from harassment by non- teammates with whom 21c has a business, service, or professional relationship.
Sexually harassing conduct, in particular, includes all of these prohibited actions, as well as other unwelcome conduct such as requests for sexual favors, conversation containing sexual comments, and unwelcome sexual advances.
Harassing conduct can also include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decision affecting such individual, or
Such conduct had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
6.1 Complaint Procedure
All teammates are required to report any inappropriate conduct immediately. Any incident of harassment, including work-related harassment by any Company personnel or any other person, should be reported promptly to a supervisor, manager, or other Company executive, who is responsible for investigating the matter. Managers who receive complaints or who observe harassing conduct should immediately inform an executive officer of the Company. 21c emphasizes that a teammate is not required to complain first to his or her supervisor if that supervisor is the individual who is harassing the teammate.
If there is any reason to believe that the teammate’s supervisor is involved in the conduct, or if, for any reason, the teammate feels uncomfortable about making a report to his/her supervisor, the report should be made immediately to the General Manager or Food & Beverage Director, a member of the Senior Leader Team or an HR representative at the property or the corporate level.
Every reported complaint of harassment will be investigated thoroughly, promptly, and as confidentially as possible within the context of a thorough investigation. Retaliation against an individual who makes a report of alleged discrimination or discriminatory harassment, or who assists in providing information relevant to such a report, is a serious violation of Company policy. Acts of retaliation should be reported immediately; the Company will promptly investigate any retaliation report and take appropriate corrective action, which may include disciplinary action ranging from a reprimand to termination of employment.
All reports will be held in confidence to the extent possible. Furthermore, the Company fully complies with applicable laws, which prohibit retaliation against a teammate who has made a report of any discrimination or harassment in good faith.
If a violation of this harassment policy is established, 21c will discipline the offender. Disciplinary action for a violation of this policy can range from verbal or written warnings up to and including immediate termination, depending upon the circumstances.