Good Beer Hunting helps launch about a half-dozen start-up breweries each year and, increasingly, we’re involved in helping those breweries grow in the long term. This includes expanding their operations, markets, staffing and, of course, opening taprooms and brewpubs. Not to mention constantly meeting new challenges exposed by the always-changing context of what it means to run a brewery.
Brewpub culture in the U.S. is long-established. It’s arguably the backbone of the craft beer industry because, as a business model, it’s more stable, defensible, and accessible to a wide audience. The brewpub is as much a local restaurant as a brewery, after all. What we’re experiencing now in terms of craft’s more recent zeitgeist owes a massive tip of the hat to the bedrock of our brewpubs around the country.
But these days, it’s the taprooms gaining all the attention. They’re high-margin, direct-sale environments where you come face-to-face with your customer. And more often than not, when we’re working with a client to launch a brewery, taprooms are top-of-mind. But the idea of running a restaurant or hospitality space is not. “I don’t want to have to handle the complexity of a restaurant” and “I don’t want this to become a bar” are common sentiments.
Taprooms are often thought of as a simple extension of the manufacturing environment—a tour and tasting space. But as their popularity and revenue-generating capabilities continue to expand, they’re creeping into the space formerly occupied by bars. And as they add on food trucks and entertainment, they start to fill the role of a brewpub or restaurant as well.
This is all exciting evolution in the beer world. But there’s a mental shift that hasn’t occurred around these changes toward a hybrid manufacturing, hospitality, and restaurant environment in the brewery taproom or brewpub that puts a lot of people at risk. It’s a risk that experienced bar owners and restaurateurs are somewhat more familiar with, even if they remain largely ineffective at combating it. And that’s gender-based violence in the workplace—sexual harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, outright physical assault of a sexual or gender-motivated nature. And it’s not a small problem. In the hospitality industry, it’s astonishingly rampant.
The restaurant industry comprises about 10% of the total U.S. workforce. That’s 14.7 million workers, half of which are under the age of 28 and six million of which are women. And in that incredibly significant workforce, more than 60% have reported experiencing sexual violence on the job. Two-fifths of all federal sexual harassment complaints come from the restaurant industry alone.
These are intense numbers that represent a heartbreaking continuity of horrific experiences. And increasingly, craft brewers are becoming a part of this industry. If we don’t recognize that, we run the risk of vastly underestimating the likelihood that a brewery employee is experiencing this right now, in your taproom, on your watch.
Aside from the devastating personal damage these incidents cause, there are other costly elements, such as driving up workers’ health care expenses, degrading their earning power, and drastically reducing their chances of achieving the economic security needed to leave an abusive situation. Economically insecure workers put up with abuse because they have to.
The factors for these risks are a sort of perfect storm for the hospitality, restaurant, and craft brewing industry. Tip-based wages create an uncomfortable situation whereby the worker is likely to endure harassment in order to prevent the loss of potential wages they rely on. In addition, hospitality workers encounter hundreds—sometimes thousands—of patrons a day, whereby the sheer numerical likelihood of harassment or assault increases dramatically. And an already male-dominated work environment on the manufacturing side, like craft breweries, contributes to the normalization of sexual harassments as “kitchen talk,” which creates a culture of impunity for harassers and silence for victims. This directly extends into the taproom environment.
GBH has partnered with Chicago non-profit organization Healing to Action in order to draw attention to the growing risk of workplace gender-based violence in the brewing industry. We hope to shine a light on this issue as small brewers continue to evolve into manufacturing environments as well as hospitality companies with taprooms, restaurants, and outposts that expose their employees to new dangers.
Healing to Action believes that it’s the workers most impacted by this issue that should drive new policy solutions rooted in their lived experiences to transform individuals, workplaces, and our communities. Through their leadership program and trainings, workers become lifelines to coworkers, neighbors, and loved ones experiencing abuse. They broaden their own awareness of the cyclical nature of economic inequality and gender-based violence. And they organize to transform the social and economic conditions which keep thousands of survivors in the shadows.
Additionally, Healing to Action works with organizations and institutions who want to prevent violence and better support survivors. For instance, the organization has partnered with the Restaurant Opportunities Center-Chicago to incorporate a sexual harassment component into their workforce development classes. Workers attending these trainings have started to speak up and ask their employers to incorporate trainings and policies in the workplace. Healing to Action is also engaging two grassroots organizations in a community-driven needs assessment to develop an action plan for their organization to address workplace sexual violence facing their constituents.
Through this multi-pronged strategy, Healing to Action enables workers to lead a movement to end gender-based violence, ensuring safe, just workplaces and stable economic futures for everyone.
GBH is doing our small part to help realize this goal in a few ways. First, we’re supporting financially with direct and ongoing donations. Secondly, we’ll be offering our studio space for a variety of gatherings for interested parties to socialize and ask questions, hosting talks and panels, and helping provide a platform for voices of change. We’ll be leveraging our editorial and podcast platform to highlight challenges and success stories from breweries around the country as they implement cultural and operational changes to help solve these problems. And we’ll be connecting business owners and employees in our industry with Healing to Action to help start the conversation and build capacity for change in their own business environments.
The common refrain that “beer people are good people” will always contain some dissonance as thousands more people enter the industry. Issues will continue to emerge that challenge the notion that there’s anything exceptional about the beer industry over any other sector. But it’s my experience that if we continue to recognize problems, discuss them openly and, more importantly, take action, then “beer people are good people” is a promise always in the act of being fulfilled, however imperfectly.
Get in touch with GBH to share your own stories.
Donate along with GBH to support Healing to Action’s mission.
Request more information from Healing to Action and consult on the risks your business faces.
Learn more about how you, as an employee, can be part of worker-led change.
Listen to our panel discussion hosted at Hopewell Brewing where representatives from Healing to Action, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Women Employed, and Hopewell themselves weighed in on the issues with practical experiences and solutions.