Calling all restaurant owners, managers and customers: We can do better

Stella’s employees are speaking out about harassment at work. Article image reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press. Photo by Mikaela Mackenzie, Winnipeg Free Press.

 

I’ve been planning to write a story about workplace mental health in the hospitality industry for some time. If you’ve heard about the #notmystellas movement on Instagram and Facebook , you know the story is writing itself.

I’m not surprised.  I’ve been listening for years to the complaints of my daughter, Angela, and many of her friends, who all worked as servers at the local eatery. Much of it was the usual whining and complaining our generation tends to roll our eyes about, thinking oh you poor little Millennials.

But, there were some serious concerns (see below), and a few times, I wanted to go down and talk to management – but Angela wouldn’t let me; wanted to handle it herself. She did handle it the best she could, but the pervasive abuse on many levels has stuck with her, causing lasting damage. For what? $11 an hour plus tips?

Stella’s isn’t alone

Sadly, Stella’s isn’t the only place where this is happening. And it isn’t just management. We customers need to look at ourselves too. Here’s a real-life example: A  table of 50+ aged men ask their 23-year-old server, whose working her ass off on a busy night, which one of them she’d like to go home with. They expect an answer. The server is offended but nonplussed as this has  happened many times before. She responds blandly with something like, I’ll have to get back to you on that and carries on. She’ll get her tip but it will feel dirty, and she’ll replay this conversation in her mind, thinking of all the things she could have said.
Same when a drunk man tries to stuff a $5 bill down her shirt.

The server was my daughter and this happened in a different restaurant where she worked after Stella’s.

It happens all the time, according to Angela and hundreds of young people – now more than I can count – that have posted to the #notmystellas page.

The articulate women who are leading the charge on this issue are hopefully, rewriting this story. They’re clear on what they want to see happen and are getting that message out through the power of social and other media. They are even getting some results but there’s still more to do in achieving all of their requests:

  • Full acknowledgement of the abuses and harassment that have been reported
  • A formal apology from company owners and top-level management
  • Continuing dialogue and creation of a safe space where people can share their stories
  • Permanent removal of two senior managers who appear in a multitude of the complaints
  • The creation of a human resources department
  • Funding for past and present staff to access mental health services

Calling out ourselves

While this was unfolding, I felt my temper rising as well-intentioned people were commenting on Facebook, threatening to boycott the restaurant, etc.  The recommendation from the #notmystellas group is to not boycott but rather, go to any one of the Stella’s locations, order something cheap, and tip in cash.

Why was I getting angry at people who were actually being supportive? I’m being called out as well. I berated my child for her complaints before and after shifts, and on days when she simply didn’t feel like going into work. I would expect her to be perky and “on” whenever I, along with friends and colleagues, went to eat at Stella’s. I expected her to blow off the harassment she was experiencing and just do her damn job. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

It was. It is. Heads up parents. We need to do better. We need to ask our young people if they’re really doing okay when they head out the door to their minimum wage jobs.

Words from the trenches

Angela Fournier hopes all restaurant owners are paying attention to the #notmystellas movement.

Here’s Angela’s post:

In regard to #notmystellas, I worked for Stella’s for 3 long years. My story is similar to that of many others I am sure you have heard. I was constantly harassed by a customer and made to feel extremely uncomfortable every single day that I worked. This customer was not asked to leave after I made several complaints to my male GM at the time, who didn’t see the customer’s constant inappropriate comments about my body or asking me to go out with him, as a problem. Eventually he was asked to leave by my female manager after making advances towards another female manager. I know many of my friends that experienced harassment from managers and other male employees who were never fired and only transferred, often keeping their manager title or being promoted.

Stella’s is not the only restaurant I have experienced this treatment with.

The restaurant industry is an unregulated industry that consistently forces marginalized people into compromising situations and is the result of many mental health issues.

Stella’s triggered much of the anxiety I suffer from today both in and out of the workplace. However, Stella’s has a reputation of hiring amazing people as their front and back of house staff who are treated like garbage. Many of my close friends who I worked with have been fired for invalid reasons as well as made to feel expendable.

I hope that this inquiry into Stella’s misconduct will encourage other restaurants to look into their policy and treatment of staff.

Just because it is a restaurant doesn’t mean the staff should be subjected to any lesser treatment than any other industry.

Thank you to the women of #notmystellas for creating a platform for so many of us to have a voice and taking this issue head on and not backing down.

Such grace and courage. By Angela and the others that are leading the charge for positive change. Let’s hope Stella’s can show an iota of the same.

What we can all do

What’s made the news this past week is happening everywhere. As my brilliant daughter describes, there are many people who need their jobs, and endure unspeakable harassment and abuse, often at the hands of managers who should know better but don’t. I’ll give that some don’t do it intentionally. Many servers and back of house staff move up through the ranks and eventually get promoted into management, without any training, and don’t have a clue what being a manager of people really entails.

Let’s hope the Stella’s debacle can help set a standard that no restaurant wants to settle for. We and they can all do better.

If you’re a restaurant owner or manager, get training in place to prevent this kind of harm. Be the place people want to work. Invest in training for your managers. Every dime you put in will pay off ten-fold in employee loyalty, satisfaction, less turnover and ultimately, happy employees and customers.

There’s free resources available through public service websites like workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com, psychological health and safety training for leaders at places like Mindful Leader, plus numerous HR and workplace relations firms that can help develop policies and processes that clarify what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, as well as how to prevent psychological harm.

If you’re a customer, treat your server with respect. None of us have the right to respond to people, who are required to show up and provide service to us, with anything less than that. In most cases, your server is doing their best, despite what may be going right or wrong in the back of house or maybe even in your day.

If they’re truly doing a crappy job, then exchange a kind word to help them do better.

That costs nothing and everybody wins.

 

You can read more (you may have to subscribe) at:

Past, present employees claim Stella’s restaurant workplace rife with harassment and abuse

Public asked to support Stella’s employees amid harassment allegations

 

 

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