How Can We Fix the Restaurant Industry’s Sexual Harassment Epidemic?

The #MeToo movement is not meant to only address sexual improprieties of politicians, corporate executives, or Hollywood entertainers. In many ways, the movement touches the restaurant industry as well.

On September 18, McDonald’s workers in markets such as Los Angeles and Milwaukee walked out during the lunch rush to protest a corporate culture of harassment at the chain. The event was organized by Fight For $15, an organization of workers fighting for living wages in low-wage jobs, and restaurant workers who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May alleging they were sexually harassed while on the clock.

But, McDonald’s isn’t alone. Some experts suggest the entire restaurant industry is plagued by sexual harassment.

An often cited report from Hart Research Associates in 2016 found that 40 percent of female fast food workers have experienced sexual harassment on the job.

A 2017 survey found that 66 percent Carl’s Jr. employees endured sexual harassment from managers.

BuzzFeed added another layer to the debate by categorizing over 175,000 sexual assault complaints filed with the EEOC by industry between 1996 and 2016. Their report found that “Full-Service Restaurants” were the worst offender, accounting for over 10,000 claims, or 1.3 claims per day for 20 years.

Unfortunately, these estimates may be on the conservative side because exact numbers are very difficult to come by.

So, what should be done to end sexual assault in restaurants?

One answer is implementing sexual harassment training for managers in more restaurants.

Currently, there are few restaurant chains that train management staff on sexual harassment. Mooyah Burgers, which operates nearly 100 franchises in 20 states, began conducting its own sexual harassment training in 2015. Employees have a third-party hotline they can call for support and the company warns employees that it will take action against harassment that occurs online, even if the employee is not on the clock.

Another answer may be getting rid of tipped wages.

Saru Jayaraman, president of Restaurant Opportunity Centers (ROC) United, a labor group heading the One Fair Wage initiative—which aims to ensure restaurants pay their employees minimum wages, told Grub Street that “[ROC United’s] 17 years of research shows the most effective way to eliminate harassment is to pay workers a full wage, rather than forcing them to rely on a tipped income.”

Jayaraman argues that restaurants who have eliminated or reduced the need for tips have half the rate of sexual harassment between employees. And there are numbers to back up this argument.

A report from Rewire News shows that employees who rely on tips often endure harassment from customers and employees. They also report that employees are often told to wear sexier or more revealing clothes in order to increase their tip haul.

The culture of sexual harassment in restaurants must end. It’s not a matter of employees learning to “deal with it”. This is something employers must take action on. Doing so will ensure that restaurants retain a welcoming environment for workers, and customers, of all ages.


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