Combating Sexual Harassment with Communication

By Rayna Katz


Rayna Katz
Restaurateurs Andrew & Briana Volk
Restaurateurs Andrew & Briana Volk

When a four-night-a-week regular customer sexually harassed a bartender one night, Andrew and Briana Volk—married co-owners of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, ejected the patron and asked the employee how she wanted to handle the situation.


That’s because the couple, who delivered a talk at the 13th Annual International StarChefs Congress on sexual harassment, regularly have discussions about such abuse and empower their staff to act. They talk about it at every staff meeting, log incidents in shift notes, and allow team members to speak up and intervene.


“You need to address these issues and not wait until something happens,” said Andrew. “Then there are programs in place when there’s an incident.”


Briana added: “The more it’s talked about, the more it normalizes the conversation and makes people comfortable. It’s a discussion everyone should be having.”


The Volks also teach their staff bystander intervention, provide an outside contact to file complaints, and train other local restaurateurs through Heart of Hospitality, a program they started with a $25,000 grant from the state of Maine.


“It’s good business to care about this stuff. It leads to employee and customer retention, and it helps with risk management,” said Andrew. “If you treat employees professionally, they will treat your restaurant the same. If you treat them as children, they will treat it as a playground."

Quick Tips

  • Empower staff, at every level, to own the guest experience from start to end. This allows team members to provide bystander intervention.

  • Train staff on early warning signs and what to do.

  • Log incidents in shift notes.

  • Practice, practice, practice. Break staff into groups and have them role play in different scenarios (managers harassing staff, patrons acting inappropriately, etc.)

  • Discuss sexual harassment—incidents, responses, etc.—at every staff meeting.

  • Arrange for staff to have someone they can speak to about incidents outside of the restaurant. Provide a phone number and email address.

  • Continuously show staff that you trust them and support them by following up on incidents.

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