Monday, February 26, 2018

:: active bystander - making bars safe ::

Last Tuesday, I attended a talk entitled, “Active Bystander: Making Bars Safe” at Brick & Mortar given by Eliza of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Alex of the Safe Bar Collective and hosted by Naomi Levi and Bols Genever. The topic was not just about how to make our bars and restaurants safe for our guests but to make them comfortable for our coworkers and ourselves. We started by defining the issues we face in bars and restaurants and later discussed five strategies for dealing with situations and intervening.

We first covered the reasons both to speak out or act and to not. In terms of the “don’ts”, the ideas ranged from personal to financial. For personal, it included not enjoying conflict, diffused responsibility, fear of making a scene (or making things worse), and safety concerns in breaking up a fight. In addition, sometimes we are only hearing snippets of the conversation, and we may not fully grasp the relationships and their context. And for professional, there is a financial balance such that we depend on tips to make a living and speaking up can compromise that (as can not speaking up by affecting other people’s comfort and quality of service); furthermore, when the issue is between employees, there is a fear of retribution from management ranging from losing shifts, demotion, and being told to toughen up. I have even witnessed situations where management told the victim that they were the problem for complaining.

For the “do’s”, while some people have an innate hero complex and feel an unspoken responsibility, some positions like managers have a perceived power to intervene as well as act as a last line of defense. Strangely, many feel more at ease in speaking up for others than sticking up for themselves. In relating to bartending, it is our responsibility to provide safe alcohol service and to get people home unscathed. Often there are signs that we should act whether it is a direct verbal plea or “help me” look, seeing someone appearing creepy or predatory approach a group, and determining people’s willingness to receive a free drink or take part in a round of shots.

The presenters laid out a spectrum of behaviors that we witness. On one end was healthy, age-appropriate, mutually respectful, and safe behaviors and on the other end was sexually abusive and violent behaviors. In the middle were three other demarcations on the spectrum: mutually flirtatious and playful, age-inappropriate or non-mutual, and harassment. Age has a lot to do with how we react to people such as being more submissive to an elder as well as questioning the propriety and power dynamics in our guests’ interactions. Moreover, we are more likely to aid an elderly person than a middle aged one. As an activity, everyone wrote down two things that we witnessed this week at work on sticky notes, and we were instructed to place them on the spectrum. While none fell in the sexually abusive or violent end, there was a good smattering from healthy to harassment.

Further discussion focused on direct interactions with guests. It was pointed out that there is a tie in with bartenders and servers (especially female ones) with sex workers for it is our job to separate the guests from their dollars. With that comes the issue of how do you put on your show on stage and still get people to respect your boundaries; it is a tough game to play because flirty and sassy staff can earn more money. Like the behavior spectrum, there is also a variety of difficult guest types, for there is a big difference between a cranky and demanding one and a sexually harassing one. Instead of a linear axis, it is more of a Punnett Square of nice versus mean crossed with appropriate and inappropriate, and with two of those four outcomes, there is indeed a difference between a polite person who behaves in a creepy way and a rude person who is not inappropriate.

For safe alcohol service, it is possible for us to confirm with others if they want a drink purchased for them whether at a table or across the bar. Even a table or a group of seats, it is possible to scan all the guests to look for confirmation or waving out when the topic of a round of shots comes up. Moreover, what night of the week and what the mood, setting, and vibe of the establishment can change what is acceptable behavior. Clubs have a different level of decorum than restaurants, and similarly, clubs have bouncers for when people step over that line.

Intervening is often the right thing to do for it can prevent situations from escalating and can have guests feeling more safe and willing to return to our establishments. We then covered the 5 Ds of bystander intervention: direct, delegate, delay, distract, and document:

1. Direct: Intervention with the victim can be as simple as asking if they are okay or asking if they need help. It can also involve getting them into a cab safely and physically getting between two parties. To the aggressor, it can be informing them that their behavior is not acceptable, that they are making others uncomfortable, and the like.
2. Distraction: This is a non-confrontational way to divert attention from the aggressive situation whether that is to pull others into it or pull people away. To the victim, it can be interrupting and telling them that their friends are looking for them or approaching the coworker victim and asking for their assistance in another part of the establishment. There are similar ways to distract the aggressor such as coming up ask them about their tab or beginning conversation about other matters. Even making more theatrical behaviors to distract the situation qualify here including dropping and spilling things.
3. Delegate: Here, you can determine if there is someone better equipped to deal with the situation and get them to handle it. To aid the victim, it can be getting their friends to check in on them, and if it is a guest or yourself, it can be to get a manager involved. To the aggressor, it can range from getting their friends to step in to change the behavior or getting security to escort them out.
4. Delay: Sometimes it is uncertain what the proper action is and whether you are over-reacting to the situation, so checking in to get a sense of what action should be taken is appropriate. Also, inquiring to the victim if they are okay or what you can do to help, and telling the aggressor that you saw what they did and that it was unacceptable both qualify here.
5. Document: Record the details through writing down the details or even filming it, letting the manager know, and filling out an incident report.

Our job forces us regularly to be a bystander to a wide range of behaviors, and it is in the best interest of ourselves, our establishments, and our guests to respond appropriately and timely to make for a safer third space and work environment. By remembering the 5 Ds, we have a better arsenal to push us from the don’t get involved mindset to the do effect change one.

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