This week 17-year-old Mia Griffiths has provided us all with an important gift. She bravely called out appalling racist customer behaviour.
All the evidence suggests that Griffiths’ employer supported her immediately and comprehensively. For the rest of us, it is a timely reminder of employer responsibility and the steps that we must take before such an incident occurs.
Embarrassingly and ashamedly, we must assume that these kinds of incidents will happen, and we must prepare our teams to minimise the harm in the first place.
Here is an idea that we have seen work well from Zingerman’s – a community of hospitality businesses that trade half-an-hour from the greater Detroit area; a city rebuilding after some of the worst incidents of racially charged violence, discrimination and abuse in America.
Harassment policies are reasonably common, but a well-communicated harassment strategy can help ameliorate trauma in the first place.
A harassment strategy is a way of minimising the harm because the action can be taken before the maximum impact of the abuse is felt.
Often hospitality managers (and owners) hear the full story after the employee has endured escalating abuse, rather than the moment the team-member senses or hears something inappropriate.
Protecting your employees from any verbal or non-verbal abuse is vital, and everyone on your team must know the ‘system of protection’ the moment they feel uncomfortable – not 5-10 minutes later, when often, the damage to the individual has already been done.
While employers can’t protect their employees one hundred percent, (sometimes we find ourselves in the position where we must merely support them one hundred percent after a damaging incident has occurred) we can nevertheless do our best to provide a system of protection.
Sometimes merely knowing your team has your back is enough to defuse the power of the hurt.
Here is our version of the system at Zingerman’s. We hope it helps you develop your own Kiwi harassment strategy.
Our Harassment Strategy – in our space we have each other’s back!
Harassment is – verbal, or non-verbal harassment, and is related to, but not limited by, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion or personal characteristics; harassment is sexual or otherwise.
The harassment strategy should be part of a wider policy to build a great place to work, and it should be liberally displayed, discussed and taught within the workplace.
A kōwhai (YELLOW) situation:
A team-member encounters a guest that says something or ‘gives looks’ a certain way that makes the team-member feel somewhat uncomfortable.
That team-member quietly tells the floor-manager (or supervisor) that they have a yellow situation.
The floor-manager discreetly asks the team-member, “Do you want me to have someone take over that table, or just keep an eye on that guest.”
The manager takes immediate action based on the team-members response. If the problem is diffused, the manager waits until near the end of the shift to record the details of the experience in the Customer Behaviour Tracking Log.
A karaka (ORANGE) situation:
A team-member encounters a guest that says something, comments or gestures that makes them feel uncomfortable.
That team-member quietly tells the floor-manager (or supervisor) that they have an orange situation.
The floor-manager does not ask any questions, they immediately relieve the person of justifying their need for help – and all-the-while continuing to provide great service to the guest. The floor-manager takes over from that team-member and ensures that team-member does not need to go near that guest (or group of guests) while still working a successful shift.
If the customer’s behaviour is curtailed, the floor-manager waits until near the end of the shift to record the details of the experience in the Customer Behaviour Tracking Log and alerting the business manager (or owner) of any further support if required/desired.
A whero (RED) situation:
A team-member encounters a customer that expresses overtly offensive comments or touching that makes the team-member feel unsafe.
Mia Griffiths’ experience of repetitive racial abuse was a ‘code red’.
That team-member quietly tells the floor-manager (or supervisor) that they have a red situation.
The floor-manager does not ask any questions, they immediately relieve the person of justifying their need for help, and the manager takes over the care of that immediate area. It is possible that the team-member will be upset – allow for a distanced administrative task, or for the team member to go home if desired (on full pay).
In some situations, a code red can be diffused in a similar fashion to an orange, however, a code red situation sometimes involves removing the guest from the premises.
Regardless of whether the guest’s behaviour is immediately curtailed, the floor-manager alerts the business manager (or owner) for immediate support.
If the customer’s behaviour is immediately diffused, their name (booking name) is nevertheless recorded, and the incident is detailed in the Customer Behaviour Tracking Log.
Depending on the details of the incident, the business manager and owner may decide to issue a polite, but firm, electronic warning to that customer, or in the case of severe inappropriate behaviour – the appropriate response may be to issue a customer ban.
In a severe situation, where a possible crime has been committed, (and only a possible crime, not evidence of an actual crime) then the Police should be called to sensitively extract and question the customer, (by ‘sensitively’ we mean in such a way that minimises disruption to other guests as much as possible).
The whole process needs to be managed in such a way that prioritises the safety of the team, and the safety of the other guests. Direct confrontation is not always the wisest response, at least direct confrontation that is not fully supported by appropriate legal muscle. Calm and respectful behaviour is always the best course of action.
Such a strategy highlights the need for a rigorous system that collects ‘guest’ names early and an approach that builds early respectful relationships with guests.
Anonymous ‘customers’ – rather than named ‘guests’ are more likely to misbehave.
Such a strategy also highlights the need to avoid skeleton crews, or shifts run without the support of experienced management.
A great place to work is prepared for when things go wrong.
Finally, your business may decide that it is appropriate to provide a clear set of ‘guest behaviour expectations’ at the entrance to your business. Guest behaviour expectations can be clever, creative and attractive but powerful at the same time. If you have made your guest behaviour expectations, clear – issuing a warning or ban is straight-forward to justify.
Whatever the details of your strategy, Mia has taught us that we must all have a comprehensive system that lets our team know that we have their back.
Thank you, Mia Griffiths, we’re sorry you went through that, but thank you for having the courage to remind us about the importance of proactively building a great place to work.
Alexis O’Connell – The Hospitality Company