Last July, United States Bartenders Guild Pittsburgh chapter president Nicole Battle told a powerful story at the 86 Conference, a two-day forum organized by Good Peoples Group and Collected Pgh to address issues of sexism, racism, classism and company culture in the restaurant industry. At the bar where Battle was working, a male bartender had cut off a drunk, unruly patron and removed him. “Everyone thought he was a hero. The managers were like, ‘Way to go!’” says Battle. A week later, the same thing happened to Battle. She cut off a drunk and unruly patron who then began throwing things at her. “I was like, ‘You’re done! Get out,’” says Battle. She says she was pulled aside by managers and told she couldn’t speak to customers like that. “I was doing my job,” says Battle. “You can’t have your staff sit through all of this training and learn all the RAMP [Responsible Alcohol Management Program] certification and then, when they do what they are supposed to do, be mad at them. I should be more important to you than that unruly customer. I come here and work hard for you every single day.”
I wish I could tell you Battle’s story was unique. But after a stint in the industry and as a reporter on it since, it’s clear that the restaurant industry has problems with standing behind female employees, as well as employees of color. As a biracial woman, Battle feels like she often has a unique view into issues in the bar industry that revolve around racism and sexism, and it’s led her to believe that one way to address these problems is to create accountability by promoting women and people of color into management positions. “This is where a diverse management team comes into play. There should be someone for everyone to trust and feel comfortable talking to about really sensitive things that happen in the industry. I watch a lot of young girls that have worked with me go through things that no one should have to go through at work, and nothing gets done about it,” she says.
The way that employees are treated in an establishment can help set a standard for patron treatment as well. The recent proliferation of the “angel drink,” a fake menu item that patrons can order to signal staff that they are in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, is a bellwether.
Currently, the USBG-Pittsburgh Chapter is in the infancy stages of partnering with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) to institute a program where people in the industry will be trained to teach colleagues how to deal with sexual harassment and assault. PAAR and the USBG hope that if the training comes from industry workers, as opposed to an outside group, that it will be taken more seriously and help to shift perspectives within restaurants.