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Diffuse the Situation

Diffuse the Situation

In the wake of headline-grabbing incidents, now is the time to train staff to be sensitive to all guests.

Following racially charged incidents over the last couple of years involving employees at restaurants like Starbucks, IHOP and Waffle House, you’d think restaurants, whether large chains or independents, would have learned from others’ mistakes. Some didn’t get the memo.

In October 2019, a group of around 15 adults and children, who happened to mostly be African American, visited a Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville, Ill., an affluent suburb of Chicago, to celebrate a birthday. Upon sitting, the group was told by a team member another guest didn’t want to sit near black people. The incident made national news. Two staff members were fired. And many in America shook their heads in shame.

In 2020, we should be beyond moments like this. Everyone, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, should feel comfortable dining in any restaurant. As restaurant operators, it’s your job to ensure everyone who enters your establishment feels welcome.

“We respect people no matter what culture they come from, what they look like, how their accent is,” says Gregg Rozeboom, CEO of plant-based Washington, D.C. chain Fruitive. “We treat our customers like we’d want our family treated.”

Rozeboom discusses this issue in weekly management meetings and reiterates the company policies so the entire staff knows how to react with customers. He suggests all restaurants revisit and clarify their core values to ensure their teams understand how to be sensitive and inclusive.

“We’ll go out of our way to make a guest happy,” says Jason James, manager partner of Austin’s Odd Duck. “If you don’t treat people as they should be treated, I’ll kick them out. I’ve kicked out numerous people for being rude to our staff, but I’ve also fired people for being rude to guests.”

Those sorts of actions send the message that not only are your guests welcome, but that your staff also knows they work in a safe place where they’re respected.

Mark Schettler, general manager of Bar Tonique in New Orleans, happens to be a white male, yet the majority of his staff comprises people of color or members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“The idea is I’m trying to build a community space, and my goal is no matter who you are, you come into the bar and someone immediately reflects you,” Schettler says. “If you look around and everyone on your staff is homogenous, you have to ask what kind of community space are you building?”

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