We are a couple of months into the new year and many of us have already abandoned our resolutions. Studies illustrate that very rarely do people make long term changes based on temporary goals. Change starts with a mental shift, but also requires a certain level of support. These conditions are pertinent whether the goal is to quit smoking or become more socially engaged. As we watch movements like #metoo and the #blacklivesmatter movements maintain momentum, it becomes a necessity (not a proposition) to discuss how we as individuals and communities can and are willing to change. Unlike our personal resolutions, it’s imperative that these movements become paradigm shifts and not social justice trends that fade to black like white after Labor Day. So, how does the service industry advance this conversation?
Recently, the curtain was pulled back on some of the industry’s most high profile personalities. Facts revealed that these luminaries regularly engaged in acts that are at best problematic and at worst abusive. From Batali to the Tunnermans, we’ve received apologies, vows of introspection, and even a recipe for cinnamon buns! However, most offenders are still financially benefiting from their businesses. They have provided no tangible follow-up or transparency, and we have not seen what “their” personal change looks like. More importantly, we have not seen what the change looks like within their companies. Batali simply said he was stepping away from his day-to-day operations, and there has been no follow-up. While entirely different, we’ve watched other hospitality leaders such as April Bloomfield simply cry a figurative “oops;” they don’t seem to think that their passiveness in the face of toxic environments of their own creation makes them complicit.
The spectrum at which we are performing to be allies, without ever actually holding accountable spaces, is astounding. The industry likes to paint a picture in which being marginalized automatically makes you an advocate. It is an illusion in which Facebook posts of personal narratives can be interchanged with a complex understanding of institutional power structures and how to undo them. This preface has presented us with monolithic identities of what advocacy in the industry looks like, but also a false truth. We watch leaders like David Chang condemn sexual harassment on one day, but continue liking the Instagram posts of Lockhart Steele on the next. What’s clear is that power structures now more than ever continue to play out in the hospitality industry. What’s more, these same old structures continue to set the scary precedent for who gets heard and when. Or, more importantly, who gets to state that they are doing the “work” without ever leaving their computer.
So, how do we make sure that all these hashtags and social media outcry aren’t just a trend? And, what are the ways that we can insure that environments that declare themselves “safe and inclusive” are actually safe and inclusive? I’m not sure there is one, fix-all answer, but I do believe there is a start, which must begin with community accountability.
We are an industry of standards. We’ve dissected free-pouring vs jiggering, glassware, and decanting while neglecting to dissect the heart of what it is that we do. That heart is community. We talk about hospitality, but even within our own ranks, we set conditions on who hospitality should be extended to and when. I, too, am guilty of this offense; so, no need to fret over the pot calling the kettle black. In this instance, we could all use a good oiling and seasoning, as the best of us can be problematic in our day to day lives. However, if we don’t start to openly discuss industry standards for community relations at every level across hierarchies, we only continue to support multiple systems of abuse.
So what is community accountability? I’ll preface by noting that community accountability and the models I am drawing from are not new. They are often used to create support systems in communities that face domestic or sexual violence. The models aim to support victims as well as create infrastructure that proactively address the problem and actively work to undo patterns that reinforce abuse. Many times, we think of safety and inclusivity as an organic process, and that one implies the other. While the implication of safety and inclusivity seems obvious, the work to actually create spaces that embody both of these must be intentional. Below is a model of community accountability that I’ve created.
The following model is built off of work by Transformative Justice, including the articulate wording in the righthand pentagon marked by an asterisk.
Note that the chart is not linear, but a series of pentagons. So, rather than looking at these steps as hierarchical or numerical, consider them as converging models for engagement. I specifically chose a pentagon shape so that as our internal and larger communities grow, we can add on to these structures. Think Dominoes.
I’ve categorized the steps as preventative versus actionable. Four of the steps are actionable and I’ve given no context to whether they are preventative or reactionary, because that may be different for every community.
Here they are listed out with follow up questions:
- Preventative: Identifying Communication Patterns, how do people communicate outside of operations and what are the overarching power structures.
- How do people communicate or present conflict, feelings of unsafety?
- Are those methods of communication inclusive to the people you employ? Or your peers? Are all communication patterns normative? How can they be diversified?
- Have I had transparent conversations with members of my staff about expectations?
- Actionable: Create Transparent Values & support those values with systems of accountability on an internal & local level. These values should include members that occupy different spaces of power.
- What are the businesses or local communities values? ALL members of the contributing community should have a say in what these are and they should be explicit. Just saying ‘respect each other’ is not enough.
- This conversation isn’t just one for bartenders, it should include management, owners, servers, barbacks, and porters.
- Actionable: Commit to the development of ALL community members regardless of where they are currently. Transform social expectations that are complicit in abusive behavior.
- Development goes beyond technical skill. This includes skills like deescalation, peer support, mentorship, etc.
- Changing the boys club culture, jokes about social causes like #metoo
- Actionable: Support members of the community who are directly or passively targeted with violence and abuse. This includes creating a network of professional first responders. Proper support relies on connections to other communities.
- Seek professionals in Sexual assault prevention, mental health,
- Actionable: “Develop Sustainable strategies to address community members abusive behaviors, creating process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.”*
- Is there behavior abusive and/or violent?
- Is speaking to someone about their behavior possible?
- How do you follow up with asking how their behavior changes?
- What does atonement look like? Is atonement possible?
If you are reading this and thinking, “Where do I begin,” start with you. Change within communities requires as much individual introspection as it does collective. Ask yourself, “What am I doing for this community, and is it representative of my community’s vision for the future?” Then, ask if that vision of the future is as diverse and socially equitable as it could be? If it’s not, start there. This journey will not be easy, it will be messy and exhausting much like the state of our country right now. However, we have an opportunity as hospitalians on the front lines of human interactions to lead. So I stand here at the edge (as problematic as the best of us) looking back at you, at us and asking that we shift the center. And if necessary we jump, because either we swim or sprout wings. Welcome to the (r)evolution.