ServSafe - The Importance of Making Your Staff Aware of Their Unconscious Bias

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The Importance of Making Your Staff Aware of Their Unconscious Bias

Once you make people aware of their unconscious biases, they are no longer “unconscious.” Once there is awareness, people can make decisions about how they are going to interact with both guests and co-workers, preferably in respectful and positive ways.

For those of us in the hospitality business, it’s easy for our unconscious biases to allow us to jump to conclusions that can lead to stressful situations. While foodservice companies, for example, often pride themselves on addressing diversity in hiring and serving their customers, the industry harbors a high level of unconscious racial bias, researchers have found.

Foodservice Industry Ranks High in Unconscious Bias

U.S. foodservice employees ranked third as having the highest level of unconscious racial bias in 12 industry sectors in an analysis of Harvard University data by the University of Manchester. About 70.3 percent of foodservice employees surveyed exhibited unconscious bias, the researchers found. This "Racial Bias in Sectors Around the World" infographic provides an interesting comparison between the hospitality industry (in this case, food service) and other industries. (Click on the image for the fully interactive infographic.)

Racial-bias incidents in the restaurant industry have gained more visibility in recent years, with USA Today reporting that employees at a Maine restaurant asked African American diners to pay in advance for their food, while staff at a Missouri restaurant falsely accused two African American women of dining and dashing without paying. USA Today also noted that New York University and Chicago’s Loyola University were criticized for celebrating Black History Month with themed menus that featured stereotypically African-American foods.

Serving Different Backgrounds

In a recent New York Times article discussing racial bias in the hotel industry, Bjorn Hanson, a professor in the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University School of Professional Studies, noted that “the incidents did not seem to create some new wave of sensitivity training or messaging.” But he added that hotel-employee training in diversity is common in an industry built upon welcoming people from around the world. “As a person in the guest-facing role, you will experience the opportunity to welcome people of different backgrounds, religions, customs and sexual orientations,” he said. “It’s almost part of the job description to serve different backgrounds.”

When a Guest Displays Unconscious Bias

Of course, unconscious bias can go in the other direction, such as when a guest makes an assumption, based on age, gender, or ethnicity, about who is a manager and who is an employee. Unconscious bias training and discussions should also touch on how employees should react when faced with the results of such unconscious bias on the part of a guest. We are all human, and it’s easy to become hurt or even angry in such a situation. Thinking about, and talking about, possible scenarios ahead of time can help prepare employees to be at their best and keep their emotions at bay during frustrating encounters.

“There is a payoff for people in learning this,” says Winter Park, Florida clinical psychotherapist Josh Magro, LMHC, noting that this is something employees can control and “if we aren’t controlling it, we can become a victim of it.” By talking, training, and planning ahead for possible scenarios that may arise, hospitality employees will feel empowered to give their best to their guests while also maintaining a positive work environment.

Understanding Unconscious Bias in Restaurants provides online training for managers and employees to provide awareness, increase fairness, and help businesses take action to reduce bias in the workplace.

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