SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Imagine you’re already having a tough day at work. Lines are out the door and there’s barely any staff thanks to a national worker shortage. Then a random person decides to harass you for your number. Every. Single. Day.
“One time, a man came in and said, ‘Would it be too forward of me to ask you for a date.’ I didn’t really know what to say, because he was like 40-something and I was 22 at the time, but he could see by my attitude that I was, you know, uncomfortable. I told him I wasn’t interested, but he wrote me a letter, basically saying he was in love with me. The next day, after I read it, he came up to the register and said, ‘So was that too much?’ I was like ‘yeah.’ He still came in every day to just come in and look at me,” describes Grace Farone, a barista at Saratoga Coffee Traders.
“That man wrote in the letter and even admitted he was a convicted sex offender but said that ‘it was years ago.’ I mean, that’s terrifying for her,” says Owner Scott Swedish. “A young woman should not be put in that position to confront that in a workplace, and in certain situations, they may not be able to say that’s wrong, you’re making me uncomfortable, that’s disgusting.”
He says the food service industry has often been uncomfortable for women, particularly waitresses and baristas. However, he says, lately, harassment seems to be reaching a fever pitch.
“It was never okay, but nobody ever said it. They just kind of said, ‘well that’s the restaurant business.’ Coming out of the pandemic, it has gotten progressively worse,” Swedish describes to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“People have been noticeably becoming more aggressive about it,” chimes in Saratoga’s Broadway Deli Owner Daniel Chessare. “Since people have wanted things to go ‘back to normal’, there’s this uptick of really terrible customer behavior.”
Chessare and Swedish have both posted on their social media pages downright demanding their customers have some class. Chessare’s 2020 post describes how some customers held tips hostage when they didn’t get their way from female servers. He says where once his shop had been predominantly female staffed, their numbers have now dwindled and rude customers may have played a factor.
“They are holding up the whole line just to hit on the person at the register, and then when she’s not receptive, they don’t leave a tip. So she potentially lost money because she wasn’t willing to pander to this customer,” Chessare says. “I don’t think it’s totally harassment. I mean, some may also have just felt they could make more money elsewhere.”
“They’re not going to want to work here, and it’s going to make it even more difficult to find people and keep people. It doesn’t matter the pay — you could pay somebody $10 an hour or $50 an hour — if they’re not happy in their job, they’re not going to stay,” Swedish describes of his own experience.
He says a couple of his workers have already quit and cited harassment. His Tuesday Instagram post mentions men taking to the coffee shop’s Google reviews to leave “hotness ratings” for his baristas — some of whom are still in high school.
“I had a 40-year-old man ask my 14-year-old stepdaughter who works with me for her Instagram. That’s the kind of thing that happens, and it’s disgusting,” Swedish says.
“It’s awful not wanting to come to work because of that,” Farone says. “It’s very freaking awkward, because I’m at my job. I’m just trying to do my job, be nice to people. It’s customer service, so it’s like, I don’t really know how to respond and there’s other people around. Especially, you know like today, there’s a line out the door, drinks to make. I’m just trying to keep up with everything. It’s so stressful and you want to just make it through the day and go home, but you still have to deal with so much harassment at work.”
Swedish and Chessare say as bosses, they feel it’s important to protect their workers where they can and also encourage them to speak out without fear of repercussions.
“I’m not going to be quiet and let it happen. I am comfortable in my skin and environment to be able to say, you’re wrong,” says Swedish. “When I stand up for them, it’s not so much so that I can get the women around me to rally. They are already rallied, but I’d like to see more men march alongside them. When your son does something inappropriate to a little girl at school, don’t give him a high five and say that’s great. Tell him, no you can’t do that.”
“Especially now because of the worker shortage, businesses aren’t putting up with it anymore. This like, just because you spend money here you’re allowed to treat my staff like crap, that isn’t a thing that people are willing to put up with,” Chessare says. “I’ll keep talking about it, and I encourage my staff to do it too. I tell them if a customer is being rude, tell them to screw off if they’re harassing you. They are welcome to do that.”
He also says many are fed up with the “bro’s club” attitude in the restaurant industry.
“The restaurant industry in general has never really been female-forward. It’s pretty much been a boy’s club for a long time, so getting more women into professional food service has always been a struggle. Sexism in the back of the house, customer harassment in the front of the house. We are at a breaking point. We can’t make the restaurant industry discouraging to half the population of the world,” Chessare says.
Swedish says he and his wife, Leslie Swedish, hope to change that. Leslie’s non-profit Moxxi Women’s Foundation donates a dollar from every Moxxi Coffee Company sale to fund grants for women 25 to 65 to pursue their business interests and “champion their own stories”.
“What the foundation is looking to do is just create equality. There’s just more to give, and that ‘my risk, my reward’ mentality, it’s got to stop. We offer mentorships, we offer programs, we offer money. The third quarter grant, we’re coming together as a board to decide that Friday, and the fourth quarter grant you can still apply for that,” Swedish says.