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Asheville restaurants use unique program to end sexual harassment in the workplace

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Bouchon is one of 10 Asheville restaurants participating in the 86 Sexual Harassment program, where managers and employees are trained to spot and stop sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, the restaurant industry has the highest percentage of workers saying #MeToo, according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

But, one agency and a small group of local restaurants is trying to change that.

On a busy dinner night, there is an 86 list at Bouchon.

"Eighty-six is a term used in the restaurant industry when you run out of something," explained Bouchon manager Shannon McNally. "So, the kitchen will notify the front we are 86 the fish of the day."

One thing Bouchon hopes to permanently add to that list is sexual harassment.

It is one of 10 Asheville restaurants participating in the 86 Sexual Harassment program, where managers and employees are trained to spot and stop sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

At Bouchon, 70 percent of McNally's 32 employees are women.

"The biggest thing I took away from the 86 curriculum was little triggers in your employees to look for. Body language, eyesight, how they are interacting with their co-workers," Mc Nally said.

Our VOICE began to develop the curriculum in March.

The agency was one of 14 in the nation to get a grant from Raliance, a national partnership aimed to end sexual violence, funded by the National Football League.

McNally and Angelica Wind, of Our VOICE, said the restaurant industry is unique, with employees often getting harassed by co-workers and patrons.

"What we know is 90 percent of women report experiencing sexual harassment and 70 percent of men have reported experiencing sexual harassment," Wind said.

Part of the 86 Sexual Harassment curriculum empowers those employees.

"To show what tools they have at their fingertips, even if they're not comfortable coming to their manager with this, there's a phone number they can call," McNally said.

Wind remembers her days as a 19-year-old college student working as a waitress.

"A lot of inappropriate comments by my co-workers and, sometimes, my shift managers, who set up my schedule, as well as inappropriate comments or touching by patrons," she said.

But, Wind, who said she needed the money to finish college, continued working.

Recent high profile cases of celebrity chefs, like John Besh and Mario Batali, being accused of sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement have turned up the spotlight on the restaurant industry.

Wind said it's a problem locally, too.

McNally said Bouchon already had a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and wanted to reinforce it through the 86 Sexual Harassment training, adding it's just good business.

" I will say I have not had to hire a server in three years, which is a huge testament to what this leadership does here," she said.

The workshops range from 90 minutes to an entire day, depending on the restaurant's needs.

Our VOICE hopes to eventually take the 86 Sexual Harassment training to restaurants in other cities.

Any restaurant interested in the 86 Sexual Harassment training is urged to contact Our VOICE online or by calling 828-252-0562

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