Saturday, June 20, 2020

:: hospitality versus activism ::

There was a recent case in Swampscott, Massachusetts, where a bartender at a restaurant overheard a guest call the Black Lives Matter movement "liberal bullshit." Instead of bringing it to the attention of the manager or asking the guest to tone it down or leave, the bartender decided to later out the patron who was a Selectman for the city on Facebook. This led to both of them losing their jobs (although the bartender was rehired). A writer contacted me to ask about the bartenders' guild stance on "drinking in a bar and privacy? Should customers assume their conversations are going to be repeated by waitstaff? Is this ethical behavior? Also, does the Guild have a position on restaurants/bars banning customers over their politics?"

I replied, "I cannot speak for the national guild itself. I do know that the USBG has a policy of not outing publicly anyone for bad behavior by name, but they will take action to remove offenders from the organization or not fund events that they are involved in. The guild does not condone sexist and racist ideals and will act as mentioned to make the community around them more comfortable for the members albeit without making a public statement about it. I have never observed the guild act on a guest or their actions, but they have acted on restaurant and spirit industry professionals' behaviors." And I recommended that he write my personal email account since I did not want to speak for the organization.

Here is my reply:
There have been very few instances of this public shaming that I know of in the news. I have worked at places where the management would act on our complaints of a guest's racist, homophobic, sexist, or offensive comments and ban them from the establishment; however, no public statement or outing was ever made. Moreover, there are certain establishments that hang up Pride rainbow flags and similar items as a signifier that hate speech is not welcome there, but I have never heard these venues lodge guest complaints to the public (different when the police need to get involved since that becomes part of the public record).

The last time that something like this was discussed was when a waitress at the Aviary bar in Chicago spat at Eric Trump. There were various discussions about who ought to be welcome in your establishment, but very few people seemed to condone the act itself as the proper decorum for a bar or restaurant worker. Most supported having management remove the person as gracefully as possible if they are upsetting the staff or fellow patrons.

Bartending and serving are one where the worker is regular confronted by racist, sexist, or homophobic comments made at them, to other guests, or aloud in earshot of other patrons. Decisions need to be made that are often tempered by the fact that our paychecks are held hostage by the guest, and often times we put up with the abuse to pay our bills. In addition, I have worked at establishments where the owners support the guests and their money more than their staff, and that level of systemic encouragement of bad behavior is definitely a problem in the restaurant industry.

Great bartenders are known for their discretion and their respect. Some of the famous bartenders in history never told a soul what their conversations were about. One of my favorite instances was David Chan at Trader Vic's who served many Navy Grogs to Richard Nixon during his presidency; undoubtedly, Nixon revealed plenty of secrets in confidence to Chan, but Chan never broke the bartender-guest confidentiality.

I do not believe that vigilante justice has a place in hospitality, but I do fully support the welcoming and the removal of guests by their behavior in both action and word.
I was not surprised that this conservative writer set me up in his article to plead his case. I was taken aback though when he requested to use the last two paragraphs, and I agreed; however, he left out the "but" part of the last sentence from the quote he said he was going to use. It made it sound like the guest had every right to freedom of speech (since it left out the idea that the establishment can determine or alter midway who they consider guests).

The topic of what hospitality should be was discussed in depth most recently with the Eric Trump at the Aviary instance (a server spit on him). A general consensus (but certainly there were voices supporting the way the incident played out) was that hospitality was about treating all your guests well coupled with determining who your guests are or will continue to be. A staff member acting on their own volition can betray the tone and demeanor set out by the owner and management, and that is what I do not approve of without trying the proper avenues of getting their management involved first. Understanding that trouble is coming through the door whether it be a rowdy group deep into their cups or a controversial political figure is when action should be taken proactively to avoid embarrassment, anger, and intense emotion for all parties -- staff and the patrons inside included.

Perhaps I am being too idealistic here given now how extreme actions and reactions in this country have not only shown to be necessary as well as effective. There are several instances where this proactive measure to ask people to remove their MAGA hats or as recently as last night when a Denver bar owner denied entry for a person wearing a Blue Lives Matter shirt. Is that enough or just a start? I am reconsidering my personal stance on the Swampscott case since cleansing the government of a racist is an honorable bit of activism. But it does seem to come at odds of what I consider hospitality.

No comments: