A San Francisco restaurant says it’s developed a system to deal with abusive customers that’s so good at combating the behavior that incidents have now “ceased to be a problem.”
Homeroom is a seven-year-old mac-and-cheese joint in Oakland run by Erin Wade, a former lawyer who describes herself as an “overtly feminist restaurateur.” She writes in a Washington Post opinion piece that up until three years ago, she thought she’d created a diverse and inclusive restaurant that was “counter to many damaging industry norms.” That was when she “received a flood of emails from staff labeled ‘harassment’ and requesting a meeting with me.”
Turns out, the harassment was coming from customers, not the women’s co-workers, but it terrified Wade regardless. What triggered the meeting was a diner feeling up a server as she bused the table where he and his four kids had eaten; other staffers told stories about reporting harassment to male managers, only to have the customers’ misbehavior dismissed as “unthreatening.” Wade writes that she “started bawling” and realized that relying “on men [to make] judgment calls on women’s stories” was just inherently a system that was “failing all of us.”
They created something called the Management Alert Color System — or, aptly, MACS. All employees are now trained on it, and it gives servers three colors to categorize incidents. An incident is yellow if a customer has a “creepy vibe” or gives an “unsavory look.” If a guest verbally comments on the server’s appearance or says anything with “sexual undertones,” the situation escalates to orange. Finally, it becomes red if there’s an “overtly sexual” act (physical contact, lewd language, or repeat orange offenses).
When category yellows occur, servers can ask managers to take over the table, or to just monitor it. Oranges require managers to take the table automatically. And reds mean the customer gets the boot.
Regardless which color it is, the server doesn’t have to justify or even explain what happened — it’s an auto-response from the manager. Wade believes the simple system keeps servers from having to chronicle (and therefore “relive”) the event, and it’s a godsend for managers because they no longer have to make judgment calls. Wade adds that they still get occasional oranges, or very rarely, a red, but that the protocols in place make managing them seamless.
Wade argues that, in this climate of crisis for the hospitality industry, it’s time to tell stories of success — instead of only “discussing the misbehavior of men” — because they can help everybody figure out how to solve the problems plaguing their industry.