October 29th, 2018 In the wake of #MeToo, Women in Hospitality United is working to create more equity, fairness, and concrete policies for positive change.
Late on an autumn afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Kate Galassi stood with an infant in one hand and a microphone in the other, addressing a group of about 75 women and a handful of men who sat around long tables in a warmly lit, brick-walled event space at the Wythe Hotel.
“We want to change the narrative for working moms in our industry,” she said. “We’re seen as a liability when we believe we’re a strong asset.”
October 10, 2018 In February of 2017, at a riotous Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune journalist Brett Anderson got a story tip that led him to allegations of sexual misconduct at the Besh Restaurant Group, one of the city’s largest and most influential dining empires, with twelve restaurants that employ more than a thousand people, all under the leadership of the telegenic celebrity chef John Besh. Anderson spent the next eight months investigating. His work culminated in a sweeping exposé of Besh’s company, published on October 21, 2017—a couple weeks after the revelations about Harvey Weinstein published in the New York Times and The New Yorker kick-started the cultural reckoning that became the #MeToo movement. (Besh apologized and stepped down from the company.)
Sexual harassment in restaurants was hardly news: virtually anyone who had spent any time getting paid to cook or serve or host was familiar with the grab-ass, the dirty talk, the forceful flirtations, the eggplant dicks, the spiked shift drinks, the dangers of leaning over to access the lowboy fridge. For a long time, these things had mattered greatly to the victims and very little to anyone else. As Jen Agg wrote on this site last year, “The ‘bro’ culture in kitchens is so deeply entrenched that it has become second nature for many of the people who work there.” Suddenly, the Besh story, riding the momentum of the Weinstein revelations, became a catalyst for a reckoning within the dining industry.
Oct. 2, 2018 It’s 5 p.m. on Monday at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, and a room full of women — and just a few men — are grouped around long wooden tables next to easel-sized sheets of white paper stuck to brick walls with phrases like “Covenant to end wage gap disparity,” “the makeup of a mentor,” and “empowered kitchens are powerful kitchens,” written in marker.
These 75 or so people — some of whom traveled overnight to be here, others who gave up their one night off in a work week that extends well beyond 40 hours — gathered for Women in Hospitality United’s Solution Sprint. The one-day event brought together elements of a tech-world hackathon and a design sprint to tackle issues facing the restaurant industry. Some of the topics addressed were the #MeToo movement, harassment, mental health, the wage gap and the challenges of working parents. I attended as a reporter, listening to on-the-record presentations and sitting in on off-the-record conversations between participants — many of which were deeply personal and poignant.