Bullying in restaurants. With the recent popularity of cooking and restaurant shows, we now have daily opportunities to get a tutorial on restaurant bullying from one of the biggest restaurant bullies in the business. Head chef Gordon Ramsay has become notorious for his temper tirades, screaming and swearing at his students and employees, throwing their culinary work on the floor or in the garbage.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gordon Ramsay may be the best known restaurant bully, but he surely isn’t the only one. Restaurants, whether new, popular, and exciting, or old standards with a drive-through window, are just like any other workplace, with 360o of opportunity for bullying. Head chefs bully sous chefs and line workers (manager-to-subordinate or vertical bullying). Sous chefs and serving staff bully one another (peer or horizontal bullying). Serving staff bully customers. Rude customers bully serving staff and, in the process, treat other diners rudely.
It’s enough to give everyone indigestion.
So where does this come from? Even before reality TV fanned the flames of emotional culinary catastrophes, restaurants were long known as harsh and bullying environments, due to the long hours and relentless pace and stress that are built-in characteristics of restaurant food production. Chefs and owners start their days at dawn at the food markets forecasting their purchasing needs before heading off to their kitchens.
The stress grows as the pace of the day increases. Diners converge on the restaurant during two small time windows, needing to be served quickly (three windows, if the restaurant serves breakfast, too). To make money, restaurants need to turn the tables (seat new customers) two to three times during each mealtime window. Raw food materials are expensive and perishable, and a badly-made dish or a plate left too long to cool before serving can result in slim profits going out in the garbage. It takes good training and precision coordination for skillful teamwork. Like a duck swimming, it may look smooth on the surface but there’s some mad paddling going on to make everything come together for polished and effortless service.
The glare of TV turns up the heat. In the name of junk food entertainment for the brain and ratings success, reality TV creators encourage Ramsay and others to display the most infantile emotional meltdowns, the faster, louder, and more abusive the better. Humiliation is heaped on contestants and co-workers.
Bully bosses influence kids. Even if you think this is “entertaining” for adults, please stop and think about the effect this has on our kids. As adults, we may be old enough, with enough life and work experience, to understand the poisonous nature of working in an environment like this, and to know that we would hate to have a boss or co-workers who are this emotionally immature and lack concern for others.
OUR KIDS DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. They do NOT have enough life and work experience to be able to discern reality TV from reality. These shows, and our acceptance of these shows, are teaching our kids that this is what “normal” adult workplaces look like. We are teaching our kids to expect and accept being bullied as workers, employees, and students. We are also teaching our kids to aspire to become the bully, because the bully becomes the boss. We are poisoning the minds of the next generation of students and workers.
We DO have a choice. Interestingly, we can learn a lot from Gordon Ramsay, other than bullying. He is an accomplished chef who has owned or been associated with restaurants that have earned 11 to 14 Michelin stars.* We could learn a lot from Ramsay about cooking, nutrition, food purchasing, starting a restaurant, running a restaurant, restaurant marketing. We must ask ourselves: Why do we choose to study bullying from him?
Should we never watch TV? That would be unrealistic. But we can do a MUCH better job, watching less reality TV, less of the shows that humiliate and demean others. We can also do a much better job setting limits for our kids – limits on both how much reality TV kids are exposed to, as well as limits on behavior, with critical thinking boundaries that just because we see a lot of rudeness on TV does not mean that we speak to each other that way in our homes, schools, workplaces, and communities. And then we must choose kindness, civility, and patience when we go out to dinner!
Can we have the strength to say NO to restaurant bullying – in person and on TV??
Share your best ideas!
* Different sources quote different stars associated with Ramsay and at least one of his restaurants gained then lost a star. Whatever the final count, Ramsay has a lot of stars, and a lot of experience and expertise as a restaurateur.