We think mixology is an incredibly fun topic, but unfortunately, we feel obligated to address this.
ithin the confines of your bar, there are few things more important than ensuring the safety and comfort of both your guests and your staff. The unfortunate truth is that, when factors like alcohol, close quarters, late nights, and power dynamics are present, sexual harassment and assault behaviors inevitably spike––it’s the perfect storm for unwanted advances, and the hospitality industry has no shortage of any of these elements. In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the hospitality industry has historically accounted for the largest number of workplace sexual harassment claims.
So what do we do to foster a safe environment for staff and patrons? It all starts with training, according to Lauren R. Taylor, Director of Washington D.C.’s Safe Bars organization.
“Bar staff are constantly placed in positions where they need to be perceptive and adaptive in order to thrive at their jobs. This can look different within different spaces, but I think we need to give staff more credit in their instincts than we do.”
Building on Existing Skills
“When we’re talking about being able to spot signs of sexual assault or harassment and acting on them accordingly, people who work in the service industry tend to already have the necessary skill sets––they’re already looking out for their guests,” says Taylor.
Organizations like Safe Bars (and other programs such as OutSmart NYC and EEOC’s Respectful Workplaces) aim to build on those skill sets by providing comprehensive education and bystander intervention training around sexual assault to bars. Jessica Pomerantz, a South Carolina bartender and mental health professional focused on sexual violence and coercion within the food and beverage industry, adds: “Bar staff are constantly placed in positions where they need to be perceptive and adaptive in order to thrive at their jobs. This can look different within different spaces, but I think we need to give staff more credit in their instincts than we do.”
“Are they turned toward the person in question or toward other people in the interaction? Are they leaning in? If this person is touching them, are they touching back?”
Signs to Look Out For
With the right training, bar teams can be fully equipped to handle potential or certain harassment or assault cases. But in its absence, or until a training opportunity becomes available, there are a few pointers from our experts worth committing to memory.
First and foremost, Taylor recommends paying attention to body language and facial expressions amongst guests and staff in situations that you suspect might be problematic. “Are they turned toward the person in question or toward other people in the interaction? Are they leaning in? If this person is touching them, are they touching back? The answers to these questions can help you determine whether or not a situation is consensual. Look for ‘help me’ eyes as another telling signal.”
Taylor also stresses the importance of reading between the lines. “Just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they’re into it. A lot of people, women in particular, will smile just to keep things from escalating or to placate their aggressor.”
“There are generally four main variables that [influence the decision to help]: individual, situational, victim, and social discernment”
Applying a Formula
Once a situation has been deemed problematic, there are several elements to consider before acting. “There are generally four main variables that [influence the decision to help]: individual, situational, victim, and social discernment,” says Pomerantz.
“Individual refers to the confidence one might have in their knowledge and skill set in regards to their social responsibility. Situational refers to the severity of the need. Are others concerned? What is the cost of helping that person? Victim is the relationship with the person who may need help. Do you know them? Do you think they will accept help? Lastly, social discernment refers to the ability to see the full situation clearly. Is there an important piece of information missing that might help decide whether to intervene?” These are all important things to be considered when deciding if and how to engage.
The Three Ds
Taylor shares a Safe Bars approach to taking action in these situations: “When we’re talking about what to do when we see something, we divide that into 3 categories and call it ‘The Three Ds’: Direct, Distract, and Delegate.
‘Direct’ means that you acknowledge that there is or might be a problem. It doesn’t mean that you have to go up and say something; maybe it’s a casual greeting that’s not necessarily confrontational.
‘Distract’ is exactly what it sounds like––go up to someone who’s causing trouble and share something that will pull them away from the group, like, ’Hey the bartender wants to talk to you about your tab!’ If it backfires, just roll with it. A lot can happen in the time that you’ve distracted this person and separated them from the person or people being targeted.
“Lastly, we have ‘Delegate.’ Get the attention of someone who’s in a better position to handle the situation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a person of authority, but someone who might be better equipped to act.”
It’s important to note that The Three Ds can be applied to either the aggressor or the victim. “It’s very flexible,” notes Taylor. “This is an overall toolkit––you can pick out what comes most easily to you depending on personality and identity.” Keep these valuable tips in mind at all times, especially until a full training comes along. If it spares even one person a harrowing or dangerous experience, it’s all worth it.