An investigation by the newspaper Times-Picayune has revealed allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment at the Besh Restaurant Group (BRG), formerly headed by celebrity chef and New Orleans restaurateur John Besh. During an eight-month investigation, 25 current and former female employees claimed to have experienced sexual harassment while working at a number of BRG restaurants, with Besh being accused of engaging in a “long-term unwelcome sexual relationship” with a young employee.
Besh has since stepped down from all BRG operations, with long-term employee Shannon White taking up the Chief Executive Officer position. “John has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on his family,” White said in a written statement, which also reveals that the company’s sexual harassment policy is being updated. Further measures have been taken to address the claims, including an independent investigation, establishment of an employee advisory committee, and “ramped-up efforts in sexual harassment training.”
Several chefs have since publicly commented on the allegations made against Besh and the culture of harassment in the restaurant industry.
“I don’t know the facts of the case or anything with the Besh company, but the fact that it’s a company this size and that there was not a credible avenue, no trustworthy credible office or institution in this big company for women to report or to complain with any confidence that their complaints would be addressed, this is, it’s an indictment of the system,” celebrity chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain told Slate.
Celebrity chef José Andrés highlighted the need for a change in restaurant culture on Twitter. “Need to make sure [the] restaurant industry is actively leading the way. Respect, dignity, [and] humanity is non-negotiable.”
The allegations against Besh come at a time when more women have been speaking out about sexual harassment within the restaurant industry. Recent sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed against other prominent chefs, including Corey Lee and Julian Medina. Publican chef Cosmo Goss and Antonio Molina, general manager of Publican Anker in Chicago, were recently fired for failing to take disciplinary action after an inappropriate photo of a female employee was circulated among staff without her permission.
According to a study by worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), the restaurant industry promotes a “sexualized environment” that negatively affects the majority of female employees. The study reports that 80 percent of female restaurant employees experience on-the-job harassment from coworkers, with 66 percent of women experiencing high levels of harassment from supervisors. The problem also extends to male employees, with approximately 50 percent of male employees reporting they have “experienced some form of sexual harassment” from managers.
Another report by Hart Research Associates that specifically addresses the fast-food industry, reveals that 40 percent of women experience “unwanted sexual behavior” at work, with 28 percent reporting “multiple incidents of harassment.” According to the report, “harassment tends to be underreported through official channels, with many women left trying to address the situation on their own.”
The restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual-harassment charges filed by women with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to ROC’s report, current complaint-based models commonly used to address sexual harassment in the workplace have failed restaurant workers. Policymakers, employers, restaurant workers, and customers must all work together to address and dismantle the industry’s culture of harassment and build safer, healthier workplaces.