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Why is sexual harassment so common in the restaurant industry?

Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in the restaurant industry. Restaurant employees file more claims of sexual harassment than workers in any other industry. In fact, one report finds that 90 percent of women are affected by sexual harassment in the foodservice industry. This is a serious issue in all types of eating establishments, including full-service restaurants, bars and limited-service restaurants. But it is a problem in lower-end places too. Another finding shows that 40 percent of women in fast food jobs experience unwanted sexual behaviors.

But why are restaurants so vulnerable to such behavior? Here is a look at some reasons why sexual harassment is an ongoing challenge in these settings.


As is the case in many industries, men tend to have a disproportionate amount of leadership roles in the restaurant industry. While there are women who are breaking the glass ceiling, men own and manage most eateries. This can perpetuate an environment that is not sensitive to the needs of women. Additionally, many high-end chefs create a cult of personality with their egos. This type of environment can make it more intimidating and difficult to bring complaints about sexual harassment.

Casual and pleasurable environment

Restaurants are distinct from other types of businesses, such as an insurance agency or dentistry. Going to a restaurant is all about enjoying great-tasting food, partaking in hedonism and often consuming alcohol. Many people do not view a restaurant as a professional workplace. Instead, it is an informal place where people can have fun with friends and family.

Young people

Many people who are working in the industry are young, especially lower-level staffers. Young restaurant workers may not know what is and is not acceptable in this environment. They may also be easily pressured or intimidated into not filing complaints.

Understanding the problems facing the restaurant industry is the first step to combating them.