MAD Digest: How A Mac & Cheese Restaurant Took On Sexual Harassment
Six years after a reckoning at her restaurant, Erin Wade talks about their innovative solution to harassment; Shiv Menon of BOCA explains the Dubai restaurant's take on sustainability. Plus news.
The Color Code of Conduct
Sexual harassment is rampant in the hospitality industry. But one small restaurant group has figured out a way to curb it dramatically. It involves three colors, and zero judgement.
Erin Wade was confident she ran a feminist business. As the co-founder and owner of Homeroom, a casual restaurant that now has three locations in California’s Bay Area, she prided herself on her company’s high percentage of women in leadership, its transparent workplace culture, and its progressive policies on everything from finances to conflict resolution. So when an incident of sexual harassment on the floor triggered an outpouring of stories from other staff who had experienced similarly transgressive behavior from the restaurant’s customers, it came as a profound shock. “I went home and started bawling,” Wade says. “I couldn’t believe this was happening right under my nose.”
That harsh realization eventually compelled Wade and the staff at Homeroom to take action. Six years and a lot of tinkering later, their Color Code of Conduct has not only effectively curbed sexual harassment in their own restaurant, but has been adopted by hundreds of other establishments in the US and elsewhere. Thanks to its elegant simplicity–and a key understanding about differences in perception—the system invented by a mac ‘n cheese restaurant in California is proving an effective response to one of the industry’s most entrenched problems.
And it is definitely a problem. The percentage of hospitality industry workers who have experienced sexual harassment on the job is astonishingly high: 34% in Australia, 50% in Denmark, 89% in the UK. In the US, where more sexual harassment claims are filed in the restaurant industry than in any other field, a full 90% of all women in the field and 70% of men have experienced harassment. And that is despite the fact that in many places, companies are required to provide anti-harassment training.
That was the case for Homeroom. As required by California State Law, Wade and her managers staff attended regular anti-harassment training sessions. But in 2017, after a man dining with his four children brazenly stuck his hand up a busser’s shirt, outraged women on the staff began coming forward with their own stories of mistreatment. *A lot of the harassment people were experiencing was not as egregious,” Wade says. “But there was a lot of low-level inappropriate behavior that they were just enduring. And, embarrassingly enough, even when they talked to management about it, they weren’t getting taken seriously.”
The Color Code of Conduct that they eventually devised removes that possibility. It divides unwanted customer behavior into three categories and assigns an automatic action to each. A yellow infraction serves as an alert–a server has detected a creepy look or vibe and can, at that point, request that a manager take over the table. An orange signals comments with obliquely sexual connotations (like unwelcome compliments, or personal questions), and requires the manager to take over the table. Red denotes overtly sexual comments or unwanted touching and requires the manager to eject the customer. All a staff member has to do to trigger those actions is report the color: “Orange on table 8.”
5 Questions with Shiv Menon
After country-hopping since he was 16, from the Seychelles to France, India to the Maldives, two things were important to Shiv Menon: diving and biodynamic wine. So, naturally, when asked to join the Michelin Green-starred BOCA in Dubai —leaders in sustainable gastronomy— he jumped at the chance to combine both interests and was on the next flight to the City of Gold. Now as Head of Hospitality, Wine & Beverage, Shiv shares his experience with leading a diverse team, marrying hospitality with ocean restoration, and why, above all else, he believes in respecting “everything that comes from the Earth”.
You are a big advocate for circularity. Is that what initially drew you to MAD Academy? As a seasoned sommelier and hospitality manager, what were you hoping to get out of the Leadership and Business course?
“At BOCA, we believe in creating a sustainable impact not only locally or regionally, but globally. So, many of my colleagues had already gone through MAD Academy. I wanted to come to MAD with an open mind, but was really interested in learning how to break down the steps of sustainable change, and how best to communicate them to our staff. I'm working with about 25 nationalities every day, from Zimbabwe to the Philippines, each with a very different background and mindset. I needed tools to translate what can be very technical into something easy to understand - for the information to flow easily down the line, so even something as small as the impact of how much detergent we use is understood and considered.
Also, coming to the Middle East where everything operates on a huge scale in the hospitality industry, I needed to upgrade my skills – and MAD was the game-changer.”
NEWS & EVENTS
2024 MAD Academy Faculty in Residence
For the first time this year, MAD Academy will be introducing a faculty in residence program. Each session, a different leader in the field will participate in the week’s course, not only contributing with a lecture or workshop, but also helping shape the curriculum and providing informal mentoring. We’ll be announcing the full lineup shortly, but in honor of the feature in this newsletter, we are thrilled to announce that Erin Wade, who spearheaded the Color Code of Conduct against Sexual Harassment, will be Faculty in Residence for one of the Leadership and Business courses.
MAD is looking for a Head of Finance responsible for day-to-day bookkeeping and accounting, as well as overseeing the organization’s financial management. This part-time position is based in Copenhagen, and will commence in the Spring of 2024.
As a non-profit organization, MAD depends on the kind generosity of its supporters to fund its Academy scholarships and other programs. Please consider making a donation. We’re grateful for any amount, and will reciprocate any gift of $25 or more with a link to the audio recording of our MAD Monday Debate: Does Natural Wine Need Protection?
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