Warning: Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Your Restaurants

Warning Zero Tolerance SignWe have all read about the John Besh Scandal.  Besh — famed New Orleans chef of August, Lüke, Domenica, and Shaya fame — recently stepped down from his own company after allegations were made of a culture of sexual harassment in his company. You have probably not gone back and read the actual investigative journalism done by New Orleans’s local paper The Times-Picayuneand NOLA.com. I recommend you do.

When Employees Speak Up

It is an excruciating read for any owner of an independent restaurant company, because of the details of what allegedly went on in that company that are outlined by many employees. But I recommend you read the whole thing and reflect on vulnerabilities in your organization.

The Weinstein Scandal, the Besh Scandal, the James Toback scandal, and others open up an opportunity for a watershed moment, where sexual harassment — the oldest story in the book — is a story that comes to an end. That is huge progress.

In that article, both Besh and his less-known business partner Octavio Mantilla seemed to blame the company’s rapid growth for a failure to execute a respectful culture. “Prior to that, probably no one could make a move without me, without me knowing about it,” Mantilla said. “That changed because we grew so quickly.”


I am not convinced. What he said is similar to what I have heard said on so many different subjects from so many different clients. Last summer I was in a meeting where a CEO said, “I have to know everything.” After that meeting I pointed out the folly of that approach. It is not possible to grow a company and know everything. The most successful people do not feel they have to know everything because they have set up their organizations and responsibility levels skillfully and correctly.

You would have to be locked away in a remote ivory tower to not know about the culture in your own company. We all know there is significant risk of sexual harassment in our industry, where people work closely together — often in a social setting, often at night, in a restaurant that serves alcohol. These factors compound your responsibility to protect all your workers — and your reputation.

4 Action Steps to Eliminate Sexual Harassment

  1. Review your sexual harassment training and policy with your lawyer and your managers.
  2. Make sure training is used not only at onboarding, but periodically as a reminder and reinforcement.
  3. Send a message to your managers about a zero tolerance policy.
  4. Create an easy route — a dedicated voice mail or email — for a whistleblower to register a complaint with an HR person and make sure that, as an owner, you are alerted if and when that whistle blows.