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This week’s 5 head-turning moments: Politics as un-usual

Restaurants found themselves knee-deep in the swamp of politics and social controversy this week. Here are the gloppy details.

However the swamp reclamation may be going on a national level, quagmire conditions intensified for the restaurant industry this week, proving once again there’s no such thing as a political bystander. Development after development proved the public is going to foist political and social controversy on operators whether they deserve it or not.

Here’s a quick review of the latest turmoil.

1. A new training mandate for restaurants

The song holds that if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. In no respect is that more true than with new obligations for restaurants. Smoking bans, menu labeling and the end of trans fats all started in the Big Apple and rolled westward to become standard industry operating procedures.

Now comes another first from Gotham. On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into a law a requirement that restaurants and other businesses employing at least 15 people provide staff and supervisors training on averting sexual harassment. 

The measure also makes it easier for victims of harassment to seek redress. The statute of limitations has been extended from one year to three, and civic harassment laws now extend to all employers, ending the exemption for employers of four or fewer staffers. New hires also have to be informed of the process for lodging a claim of harassment.

The laws are believed to be a first in the United States, but they echo legislation that went into effect in the Canadian province of Ontario in 2016. Meanwhile, Connecticut lawmakers are considering a similar proposal.

2. A black eye that won’t heal

It’s not as if the fury over sexual harassment is going to die down for restaurants. Longtime antagonist Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) indicated this week that it won’t let that happen. The union in disguise tried to pour gasoline on the fire by releasing yet another of its damning “studies” on the damage that’s done to society, and women in particular, by restaurant employers.

This one, detailed to the press by “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker, accuses the industry of teaching female servers to remain victims of sexual harassment throughout their lives. “A majority of women who previously worked as tipped workers report tolerating harassment later in life, regardless of what profession they eventually enter,”concludes the announcement of the report.

ROC said the indictment of the industry is a preliminary insight from a yearlong study the group intends to conduct with the University of California, Berkeley that looks at what happens to former tipped servers later in life. 

Although the research is just beginning, ROC said early results point to a solution that just happens to align with the political agenda of the group and its backer, the Service Employees International Union: killing the tip credit nationwide.

3. A how-to poster to combat harassment

Virtually every restaurant sports a poster explaining what to do if the Heimlich maneuver is needed to save a choking customer. Why not use the same approach to rescue victims of sexual harassment?

A co-owner of The Perennial restaurant in San Francisco has decided to do just that. Karen Leibowitz teamed up with a New York City designer to create a wall poster with step-by-step instructions on what a restaurant employee should do if he or she feels they’re a victim of sexual harassment.

The placard, a dead ringer for the Heimlich maneuver poster, is available for purchase for $10 on CherryBombe.com,  a site for women interested in the food business. The site also offers a free “DIY” riff for operators who want to download it in an unfinished version.

4. A backfire for that other NRA

Not all of the week’s restaurant-related political developments dealt with sexual harassment. At least one operator was also pulled into the incendiary issue of gun control, though with a surprising outcome.

When the National Rifle Association descended on Dallas last week for its annual convention, a local restaurant called Ellen’s decided to acknowledge the get-together with a call for reason. Guest tabs were imprinted with a heads-up that a portion of sales would be donated to finding a way of curbing gun violence without making anyone feel their Second Amendment rights were being infringed. 

By careful design, it was a centrist approach. Yet that didn’t stop the NRA from yelping about constitutional rights and declaring a boycott of the restaurant.

Instead of staying away, patrons came in droves, generating $15,000 in contributions for Ellen’s up-the-middle approach.

Gun advocates responded with threats to shoot up the restaurant, and started posting made-up slams of the place on customer review sites.

Some might say proprietor Joe Groves stuck to his guns. This Sunday, Mother’s Day, the restaurant named after Groves’ mom will provide a five-figure check to an anti-gun-violence group called Mothers Demand Action.

5. ‘… And take your damned hat with you’

Political conviction also won the day for a well-known establishment in New York City.  Bartenders at The Happiest Hour refused to serve a patron wearing a Make America Great Again hat, the lidwear made famous by Donald Trump during his presidential run. They then threw the guest out.

The patron was so incensed that he filed a lawsuit claiming he was the victim of religious discrimination. He explained in the filing that the hat was a spiritual tribute to the people killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, the former site of which he’d visited before strolling into The Happiest Hour for a drink. Objecting to the hat was a slight on his beliefs.

The matter made it to the Manhattan Supreme Court, where it was quashed by the presiding judge as a petty matter having no connection to religious rights.

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