Tayēr + Elementary’s Monica Berg has launched a free digital resource to help members of the hospitality industry report workplace issues anonymously. Imbibe spoke to the award-winning bartender about why she thinks trailblazing tools like Back of House are needed in the bar industry
‘We haven’t actually had anyone use it yet,’ Monica Berg tells me of her team at Tayer + Elementary in response to my asking how they’ve embraced her online tool Back of House. That is, actually, a good thing.
The free digital resource was originally designed by Berg for her team to anonymously report any discrimination, harrassment or other issues faced in their workplace. The website has now been rolled out across the industry for small venues and small teams within big businesses to help staff communicate otherwise hard-to-discuss problems they face at work.
It shows we are a company that really means it when we say that we want our team to be happy
‘The idea for Back of House started even before [Tayēr + Elementary],’ Berg told me. ‘It’s basically about having a tool for the team to be able to communicate when topics can be sensitive and have that security if they don’t feel that they have someone to talk to... a safety net.’
Registering with Back of House means that companies can use the online template or tailor one to their own needs, then share a link with their team to the form to fill out with their issue, who they’d feel comfortable speaking to and a possible resolution. ‘We don’t actually track the users,’ Berg tells me, ‘as part of the allure is that it is completely anonymous...I don’t even have any access… It’s not about controlling or recording anything, it’s purely there for bartenders and employers to use.’
State of play
Reaction within the T+E team was overwhelmingly positive. ‘I think that it was very well received...They really felt it was a good initiative to have and it is good to know that we care, just knowing that we did it for them rather than them having to ask for it. It shows we are a company that really means it when we say that we want our team to be happy – they really appreciate that.’
You would be unique if you hadn’t ever been in a situation that is not necessarily the most comfortable
Unsurprisingly, she has also had plenty of feedback from who appreciate the initiative, and even ‘a few people who have got in touch saying it is something that would be good to align their companies with’.
Of course, harassment in the workplace for the hospitality industry isn’t new – anyone who has worked behind a bar, or indeed in front of it, will have experience of being in uncomfortable situations, whether by their own colleagues or indeed their customers. And while harassment in kitchens is perhaps more well-documented, there are no fewer issues happening front-of-house.
‘One of the biggest differences between working in a kitchen and a bar, is that when you work front of house [in a bar] you also have to deal with guests a lot of the time,’ Berg explains. ‘Some of the really difficult situations I have been in have not been caused by people who I work with, but by those who spend time in your venue... When you are in situations like this frequently, you get so used to being treated in certain ways that you forget what is normal – that plays a part in the problem.’
While harassment in kitchens is perhaps more well-documented, there are no fewer issues happening front-of-house
Has Berg been subject to these sorts of issues? ‘Absolutely...you would be unique if you hadn’t ever been in a situation that is not necessarily the most comfortable.’
So, why now? Berg believes that there is still a naivety in the industry in thinking that these sorts of issues will just ‘go away by themselves’ and hopes that Back of House is an important step in initiating ‘difficult discussions [that] need to be had’. She admits: ‘It’s very uncomfortable to have these conversations. But, unless we are ready to have them, things will never change.’
Of course, Berg’s main drive is to encourage a safe and communicative environment for bartenders – like her own team – to work in. ‘For me, when you speak about the fact that there are people who don’t want to go to work, are scared to be at work… it’s a very hopeless situation to be in and if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a very vicious cycle.’
It’s an honourable move by one of the UK bar industry’s most lauded bartenders and one which will no doubt have a positive effect on the lives of those who need to use it: ‘Our industry [this year] has had a lot of focus on negativity, so I wanted to shift the focus to something more positive. Even if it means only one or two people take the steps to get out of that situation, I think that’s achievement.’ We at Imbibe could not agree more.
If you’d like to register with Back of House simply follow this link.