Executive chef: Sexual harassment alive and well in the Charleston restaurant scene


Talent once kept behind closed doors, restaurants are now the destinations to see star chefs.

But for the growing number of female chefs that reach celebrity status, it also opens them up to sexual harassment.

“The 'good old boy' mentality that customers can come and touch you or kiss you or they will call you honey or sweetie. I’ve corrected some people by saying, 'It’s chef,' or, 'It's Elizabeth,' and that’s just sort of laughed at,” says Elizabeth, who was an executive chef in downtown Charleston.

She’s not laughing.

She wants the harassment to stop.

“Just because we work in a kitchen doesn’t mean that we have to put up with the garbage that we do,” says Elizabeth.

Garbage like wildly inappropriate social media posts to her public profile after hours.

“Social media harassment is a big one, like sending you like dirty pictures in the middle of the night,” she says. "Definitely several customers have harassed me and followed me home."

Also, she says she had a problem with some vendors who sell to her restaurants.

“I had a vendor who would follow me upstairs and say that was the best part of his day is walking behind me up the stairs," she said. "Then he groped the inside of my leg while I was trying to sign invoices. Nothing was ever done about this."

John Keener is the President of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association. He says sexual harassment is a problem that crosses all lines.

Keener says, “I don’t think it’s a 'good old boy' mentality just for the fact that, first off, it’s not a Southern thing. It’s across the board, genders sexes, races religions.”

Elizabeth says these are the kind of problems that can shut a restaurant down.

"There should be more sexual harassment training in restaurants," she said. "The thing about restaurants is that they don’t have an HR (Human Resources) department and there is no one that you can go to and say, 'I’m having a problem.'”

Keener agrees.

“A good majority of the restaurants do not have an HR department and the owners and the managers need to take charge of that situation and that’s what the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association is going to do—hopefully teach them and educate them to be proactive in all these situations.”

Elizabeth says out of all the places she's worked as a chef, Charleston has been the most prevalent in sexual harassment.

The Greater Charleston Restaurant Association says seminars are being planned for this summer to address sexual harassment in the food and beverage industry.

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