Welcome to today. Another day, another sexual assault allegation. Who is it this time? Meet, good old Mario Batali. The only one of his kind: a lovable liberal with a pedantic personality and a penchant for fine Italian food and the fast life…AKA, cocaine…but, you didn’t hear that from me.
Though I never met him directly, (I did see him stroll past my host stand one night while working at Eataly,) I worked for his restaurant groupM, B&B, co-owned with Joe Bastianich. Batali & Bastianich own over 20 restaurants. As it is not uncommon for food service employees to transfer to different restaurants within the group, based on either the needs of the establishments or of the employee, a few of my ex-coworkers who transferred to other restaurants within the network have had more direct exposure with Mario; thus sharing with me tons of tales about this orange-footed fellow – tales that confirm the recent allegations.
And as a woman who’s worked in and out of restaurants for about 6 years – 3 of those years in two different Mario Batali establishments – I feel I have the right to weigh in on this issue. The whole thing is very meaningful to me. I hear these women clearly – not particularly about my time in this company, but in restaurants in general.
First things first: Restaurant work can only be understood for those who’ve experienced it themselves. It is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting – all at once. There’s lots of standing and walking and running. There’s lots of carrying hot plates and heavy things. There’s lots of wine bottles to put away; and lots of short women hesitantly asking tall men, “Hey, can you reach this for me?”, worried what conversation their request might lead to.
There’s lots of tight corners, lots of touching bodies as each one tries to squeeze through a crowded kitchen. There’s pressure from customers, coworkers, and the chef.
And many nights, you just don’t want to be there.
For our purposes, I’m talking specifically about working as a female hostess, server, or bartender. In this role, you don’t have much of a voice; you are stuck obeying the strict authority of another. But, you make good money; and you get food and drinks. You get along with your coworkers, somewhat. You get to sleep in. You like this life. You don’t want to lose your job. So you remain on guard in order to ensure a golden reputation.
And above all, you want the chef to like you.
Most chefs, if they’re good, don’t usually like too many people. They yells a lot. But thanks to Anthony Bourdain, the chef now has more power than he’s ever had. He can determine whether a front of house employee (not kitchen employee) needs to go, or whether she can stay.
He wears his power on his tattoo sleeve.
If you’ve worked in restaurants, you know what I’m talking about. Head chefs delve out insults like cash at a strip club, but keep compliments limited to a select few. And when you’re complimented – even if it’s just about your appearance – it automatically translates into job security.
You feel safe.
If you’re a woman with low self-worth, you get a tingly feeling of fulfillment in your stomach whenever you catch him looking at you. You wonder what he’s thinking about. You wonder if he noticed your new hair cut. You think about him.
Until he crosses the line.
*** The following is a hypothetical combination of true lived experiences in the various restaurants where I have worked. Its intention is to give a realistic understanding of a woman’s experience. It is not to reflect any particular manager or chef within Batali’s company – I have nothing but positives to report from my time as an employee. ***
One Saturday night, during family meal, Chef challenges the servers to sell salmon, because he needs to get rid of it. You take the challenge personally and sell the most. He noticed.
Towards the end of the night, he intimately applauded your drive and work ethic as he asked the bartender to leave two shots of Jameson by the espresso machine. You swig the shot with him and accept his compliments, beaming with pride.
About an hour later, he comes up behind you while you’re alone, standing and entering your tips into the Point of Sales system at the end of your shift. Without warning, he pins the front half of his body against the lower back half of yours. You feel things you don’t want to feel. He then places his sweaty hand on your neck and begins to rub your skin in a sultry motion. He maintains the pressure of his body against yours in this backwards, unwelcome embrace. He doesn’t budge.
Though you want to cry, you must now wiggle your way out of this position in a light-hearted way. You fake-laugh it off and nervously continue working. He smiles.
What do you do now?