This is officially the year of #MeToo, and claims of sexual harassment are not only coming from Hollywood, sports, and Capitol Hill. They’re spilling out of every industry. Buzzfeed has compiled data on every sexual harassment claim filed with the EEOC, the federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, in the last 20 years, and the results are disturbing. Many industries show a history of problematic behavior, but the restaurant industry is especially rife with complaints of workplace harassment. Food service workers file more complaints than any other industry, and what the data reveals about restaurant culture might surprise you.
With the steady flow of alcohol, you might think that sexual harassment would be more rampant in bars, but that’s not what the data shows. Instead, far more complaints (over 10,000) came from employees working in full-service restaurants. That far exceeds what came out of venues categorized by the EEOC as “drinking places,” which racked up just 109 complaints— roughly the same number as came out of full-service restaurants in 2016 alone. Even limited-service restaurants, the second highest category within the food industry, tops out at 588 complaints. So what makes a sit-down restaurant such a threatening environment for so many employees?
The dataset doesn’t include personal details or identifying information, but it does break things down by gender. Industries in which women are the minority tend to see higher rates of harassment, as do lower-paying industries in which women might feel greater pressure to stay on the job or have fewer in-house resources protecting them. But in the restaurant industry, these factors play out a little differently. There might be a slim majority of women in the industry, but their income depends on pleasing customers for tips, and on pleasing their managers to get a decent schedule.
You can extrapolate how the amount of interaction servers have with customers increases rates of harassment complaints. Full-service restaurant workers have the most face-time with diners– greeting guests, taking drink and food orders, checking up a few times throughout the meal, processing the bill, etc. There aren’t as many opportunities to harass women who are near co-workers, behind a service line, or who spend less time talking with customers like baristas, bartenders, and other limited-service or cafeteria workers.
While sexual harassment is a real problem across all industries, breaking down why it’s worse in some lines of work than others can help end the cycle. Data like this shines a light on the dark corners where harassers tend to hide their bad behavior, and where vulnerable women all too easily become invisible to everyone but predators.