The SOMM Journal

December 2017 / January 2018

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Page 24 of 124

24 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2017/2018 { bottom line } ANYONE WHO HAS worked in the restaurant industry has been aware of the fact that sexual harassment is a serious issue. Exactly how serious a problem it poses, though, depends on your perspective—not just as a man or a woman, but as a person who either wields or lacks power in the workplace. Harvey Weinstein and Bill O'Reilly are high-profile examples of what we all have wit - nessed or experienced firsthand. A recent New York Times article cites a 2008 experiment in a psychology journal demonstrating that men who are given supervisory positions tend to "flirt" more overtly than men in lower-level roles. Here's the thing: What many men consider "flirting" is often considered unwanted attention—or more specifically, sexual harassment—by a significant amount of women. Because I'm not really equipped to make that distinction, I reached out to Gretchen Thomas, the Wine & Spirits Director of Barteca Restaurant Group (the multi-unit com - pany is anchored by Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut). "I came up from the kitchen side, which can be brutal," she says. "My biggest pet peeve about kitchens, especially open kitchens, is that cooks have their secret language for every time they see an attractive woman. The problem is everyone in the restaurant understands that language, including the women working in the kitchen and dining room, and we all get insulted and demeaned every time we hear it." The numbers back up Thomas' ongoing experience. The most recent statistics released by the National Restaurant Association show that more than 50 percent of restaurants in America are owned or co-owned by women; women also represent 52 percent of all restaurant workers and 71 percent of all servers. However, only 19 percent of kitchen positions are held by women—hence that "brutal" atmosphere. Another interesting statistic: Of the 158 current Master Sommeliers in the Americas court, only 25 are women. That's barely 16 percent—an even smaller percentage than that of women working in restaurant kitchens. This also reflects the minority status of women in wine-related industries (only 10 percent of California winemakers, for instance, are women). For Thomas, being a female wine professional and restaurant executive hasn't exactly been fun and games. She recalls one experience early in her wine career : "I once had the opportunity to spend time with a man with a great reputation in the Spanish wine industry. I was so excited to meet him, but he turned out to be such a flirt. Even worse, every time he introduced me to another Spanish winemaker he'd refer to me as 'a young beautiful woman who happens to be an important wine buyer,'" she says. "I can't tell you how demeaning that was—making my appearance and gender a part of a conversation where they shouldn't in any way be a factor. Over the years I've experienced similar situa - tions, usually involving men in the wine industry who happen to be in positions of power." While far from ideal, according to Thomas, "the good news is that the increasing number of women in the ranks has resulted in a natural fix. There are more guidelines addressing sexual harassment, and everyone, in my company at least, undergoes yearly retraining. Although the wine and restaurant industry is becoming less and less a men's game, at least now the problem of sexual harassment is finally being taken seriously." Taking It Seriously SHEDDING LIGHT ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WINE AND RESTAURANT INDUSTRIES by Randy Caparoso REPORTING FROM THE FRONT LINE As a female with more than two decades of experience under my belt serving under various positions in the front-line trenches of restaurants, and especially now as Managing Editor of this magazine, I feel it is my duty to speak on behalf of all the women who have also fought and continue to fight at the front of the house. Female serv - ers, sommeliers, bartenders, cocktail servers, and even managers can expe- rience the brunt of sexual harassment that occurs in restaurants, as it's not only received from co-workers and supervisors but also—and often worse, I might add—from guests. Whether in the form of groping or degrading flirtation, I've had to grin and bear my way through countless occurrences out of fear it would affect my tip or result in retaliation via complaint to my superiors. The saddest part is, I'm quite sure that the aforementioned is the minimum of what any female has experienced on the floor. As Ms. Thomas' experi - ence has centered mainly around the back of house, I just want to make sure we are fairly representing the reality of the service industry as a whole. Thanks to the wonderful Randy Caparoso for writing about this incredibly important issue. —Jessie Birschbach

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