This is what happens when you mess with the Mass service industry
It’s been a rough few weeks, news-wise, for Boston’s restaurant industry.
First, on Nov 4 the Boston Globe published a page-one feature about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the industry (spoiler: It’s bad, really bad). Then, less than a week later, Tenzin Samdo, a prominent member of the local industry community and superstar behind the bar, was aggressively harassed by an entitled dickhead BU professor who went on to write an obscenely inappropriate Yelp review of Samdo’s workplace, Art Science Cafe.
Not all press is good press (just ask the econ prof, Dirk Hackbarth). So why would I, an active member of the industry, rehash these stories?
Because harassment—sexual and otherwise—is a problem in restaurants. Since humans with anatomically different genitals began to coexist in kitchens, behind bars, and on the floor, it’s been a prevalent and accepted part of the culture.
Don’t like dick jokes?
Kitchen work’s not for you.
Have a problem with the way your male colleagues talk about female guests?
Probably shouldn’t wait tables.
These have been the norms for far too long. And everyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows it. The Globe article highlighted nothing new, but it has sparked a much-needed conversation about the issue of workplace harassment at a local level.
On Tuesday, Nov 21, Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri, owners of Juliet in Somerville who frequently host social justice and restaurant-related activist gatherings, had a free public event to discuss sexual harassment in the industry. The invite asked:
What have you seen? Heard? What to do when reporting seems impossible? What solutions can you propose to make our beloved industry safe and welcoming for everyone?
With a panel of industry leaders and lots of room for frank discussion and questions, this event was the first of its kind when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment, and it came from the inside: no state agency, HR collective, or worker’s rights advocacy group guilted Lewin and Jazayeri into hosting this event. They did it because it’s the right thing to do.
When Tenzin (sorry, we worked together, referring to him by his last name is weird) posted about his experience on social media (because everyone needs to vent sometimes), the post had hundreds of comments within hours, all expressing outrage and solidarity. The nefarious Yelp review, which Tenzin included, was shared dozens of times.
Twelve hours later, Mass news outlets were out with the story about Hackbarth’s odious behavior, while BU condemned his words and actions.
And the Boston restaurant community made that happen.
You don’t fuck with family.
All this is to say that yes, the restaurant industry, like every other industry, has some skeletons in its closet. But unlike most other industries, we’re facing them head on. We are, collectively and collaboratively, working to make the places and spaces we work, the restaurants we pour hours of our lives, buckets of our sweat and, sometimes, gallons of our tears into, safer and better.
As we crash into the winter holidays, it can be hard—especially for people who work in restaurants, since someone has to work at your holiday parties—to take a moment to breathe and think and reflect on the year that’s coming to a close.
It hurt to read about the blunt realities of sexual harassment in restaurants and to know we have allowed it to become normalized. It was infuriating to read about a talented and respected member of my professional community being so disrespected.
But the prompt response from the local industry made me incredibly grateful to be a part of it and so, so thankful for family.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.