How to Run a LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Restaurant
Ensuring that people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ population feel welcome and safe in your restaurant is not only the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative.
According to LGBT Capital, the LGBTQIA+ community had $3.7 trillion in purchasing power globally as of 2019. That kind of power is undeniable.
While many businesses and brands launch LGBTQIA+ inclusive initiatives during Pride Month, it’s important to think about your impact and do this work year-round — and not just jump on the bandwagon for a quick buck.
For Pride Month 2023, a number of restaurant businesses have launched marketing campaigns, with an eye towards giving back. According to Bar & Restaurant News, Still Austin Whiskey CO threw a party in their tasting room featuring Fort Lonesome, a custom creative shop, to make patches for the charity Out Youth. Out Youth offers youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities a place where they are loved, acknowledged, and accepted for exactly who they are. They also offered specialty cocktails and hosted other activities.
Over in NYC, Camila Nevin, the founder of Kid Brother Pizza Bar, and her partner Chef Michael David worked on a rainbow pie, and a portion of the proceeds were donated to Callen-Lorde, the global leader in LGBTQ healthcare.
Then in Miami, the incredible R House Wynwood hosted its annual drag pageant and partnered with local businesses to create offerings all in partnership with LGBTQIA+ charities.
However, LGBTQIA+ inclusive restaurant marketing campaigns haven’t been a part of the social consciousness for long. So what’s responsible for the sudden change?
The LGBTQIA+ community in restaurants 2023
Recent research suggests that diners are now interested in supporting restaurants that take a stand on social issues, and have a high sense of purpose. According to Think With Google, prior to marriage equality, 45% of consumers younger than 34 said they are more likely to do repeat business with an LGBTQIA+ friendly company.
Edelman research found that a brand’s political and social stance is 59% of the decision-making process for potential customers (8,000 were surveyed). A 2018 survey conducted by Community and Marketing Insights found that more than 75% of Americans choose to spend their money at establishments that support equality.
“I do believe that there has been an attitude and prevailing sense of exclusion towards the LGBTQIA+ community in the restaurant and hospitality spaces; and that needs to be addressed and remedied. Diversity in every aspect is key to growth of any business and it is crucial we make this philosophy a part of our mindset,” says James Park, owner of NYC West Village restaurant WindRose.
While it’s encouraging to see restaurateurs show support during Pride Month, it’s even more critical that they continue to promote inclusivity year-round. Customers are increasingly wary of businesses that show support during June and then fall silent for the rest of the fiscal year.
“Restaurants and hospitality organizations have LGBTQIA+ employees and LGBTQ patrons, so issues that impact LGBTQ folks impact restaurants on these two levels,” says Lindsey Danis, LGBTQIA+ author and food writer. “Accordingly, restaurant and hospitality business owners should care about protecting the welfare of their employees who happen to be LGBTQIA+, as well as providing a safe atmosphere for patrons.”
The best way for you to get ahead of customer wariness as a restaurant owner is to understand the issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community today so that you can best support your employees and patrons.
What Are The Issues Affecting the LGBTQIA+ Community Today?
To best support your restaurant's LGBTQIA+ employees and customers, you must first understand the issues affecting them.
“There are so many different issues affecting LGBTQIA+ Americans, [since there are] many different sectors of the LGBTQIA+ population,” explains Lindsey. "I'd say that issues affecting the largest numbers of LGBTQIA+ folks include mental health, physical well-being/safety, and financial insecurity.”
“These issues play out in different ways across the queer population,” she continued. “A trans person might not be able to find meaningful stable employment or might suffer income loss post-transition, while a bi person might be afraid to come out on the job if they're presumed straight (some 50 percent of LGBTQIA+ folks are closeted at work).”
It’s also critical not to stereotype your LGBTQIA+ employees and patrons. "Not all LGBTQIA+ people are cisgender, likewise not all transgender people are lesbian, gay, or bisexual,” says writer and trans activist Hannah Simpson. “Some of us wear or enjoy drag, others prefer sports. We drink, or we are sober. Offering a variety of queer content at your establishment will help diversify your appeal,” she continues. “Please don't fall into the tropes that all LGBTQIA+ content is loud dance parties with lots of alcohol and less clothing. Cater to those of us who have partners, and those who are single.”
Finally, it’s crucial to remember that any issue that affects how someone could do their job will also affect the restaurant. For instance, if an LGBTQIA+ employee is experiencing housing insecurity or mental health issues as a result of their sexuality or gender orientation, it will likely hamper their work performance.
How You Can Create a LGBTQIA+ Safe Space in Your Restaurant
1. Make it clear that your restaurant is a safe space
Your goal should be to create an inclusive environment where patrons and employees immediately feel safe and welcomed. Whether it’s having a Pride flag hanging in your restaurant 365 days a year, or hiring security to protect your LGBTQIA+ guests, each establishment must find its own approach to creating a welcoming atmosphere.
Business owners can also demonstrate allyship in their hospitality community by speaking out against any discriminatory policies or hate crime incidents.
It is also important for the staff of restaurants to be proactive in situations where injustices are happening within the establishment. Servers and managers can be trained on how to de-escalate a situation or have steps in place for when something is happening that should not be in the restaurant.
It’s also crucial for business owners to include the queer community in their marketing initiatives. This act of inclusion helps to ensure people feel seen, welcomed, and supported in your spaces, and helps you gain market share. “We are a very social community and are not afraid of experimenting,” says Los Angeles celebrity Chef Wayne. “We are the ones that go out and support all new restaurants and venues that pop up to give them a chance. We are the trendsetters.”
Finally, when selecting and working with vendors on marketing initiatives, repairs in the restaurant, technology, etc. ensure you do so with an eye towards inclusivity. Take care to select vendors that promote thoughtful support of the community, are from the community, and/or consistently give back to the community through LGBTQIA+ organizations, throughout the year, not just during Pride.
“Really take a look at the companies you’re supporting or whose products you’re selling,” says Haley Fortier, owner and operator of haley.henry and nathalie. “If you’re going to jump on the bandwagon, hopefully you’re doing your research based on what these companies and vendors stand for.” This, in and of itself, shows your space is a safe space.
2. Be Gender Neutral
When referring to patrons and employees, it’s always important to use gender-neutral language and be sensitive to different gender identities, including when taking an order.
“A simple greeting like ‘How's everyone doing today?’ or ‘Can I get you folks anything else?’ is friendly and inclusive,” says Lindsey. See inclusive language practices here.
It’s also crucial for business owners to have gender-neutral bathrooms in their establishments to help customers and employees alike find a safe place to take care of their needs. You cannot control microaggressions between patrons such as comments and looks in a bathroom; you can set up your space to indicate that all are welcome and judgemental behaviors are not.
3. Set a positive work environment from the top down
Creating a safe and supportive channel for employees is paramount to employee success in the restaurant industry no matter how those employees identify. There are many ways for you to work on creating this culture from creating space for team discussions to ensuring you are leveraging equitable hiring and employment practices.
Prioritize mental health: Discussions on mental health allow all employees, especially those who are in historically marginalized communities, to voice any issues they are facing. When we talk, we know we aren’t alone - these connections also help breed a culture of support and growth. “If care is not taken to address LGBTQIA+ issues within the hospitality environment, it can lead to a dearth of LGBTQIA+ employees and customers,” says James.
Find flexibility in pockets: It is frequently the case that someone might need just an hour in the middle of a shift to attend to their needs. For example, an employee may need a flexible schedule for their doctor's appointments while undergoing a transition, an hour out of the week to meet with their therapist, etc.
Be open to differences in expression: The queer community is incredibly diverse; support that diversity by calling out harmful stereotypes and by allowing for gender-inclusive dress codes, hairstyles, etc.
Be proactive in hiring inclusively: Employment discrimination is a huge concern in states that don’t protect sex and gender identity. Business owners in those states should be proactive when it comes to shoring up their support of queer workers by being aware of these issues, leveraging consistent evaluation techniques rooted in data and examples rather than camaraderie, and completing bias checks after interviews.
Represent the true dynamic of society: Representation in a restaurant space truly matters when people choose where they eat, and where they work. “Ensuring that the LGBTQIA+ staff is not only the forefront of a brand, but are also present in key decision-making roles is essential. Keeping authentic voices at the forefront of inclusivity ensures that the authenticity of diversity integration isn’t disrupted,” James says.
By respecting your LGBTQIA+ employees and patrons from the top, your management style will trickle down to create a more inclusive environment. Your restaurant will only be as accepting as your employees are, so share your values with your entire team to create a natural alignment.
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4. Provide LGBTQIA+ awareness and ally training
As a restaurant owner, it’s imperative you make use of the Ally resources available to you, to understand how to best support your LGBTQIA+ employees. Partner with LGBTQIA+ organizations in your community, to provide your team with thorough training and education.
Educational communities such as the #FairKitchensInitiative seeks to provide a more positive kitchen culture for employees and recently worked with Unilever’s Diversity & Inclusion to come up with questions that leaders could use to create a diverse workplace and business culture.
“Our Fair Kitchens community has many examples of high-performing teams that create an inclusive environment where people understand their purpose and respect each other. What’s important is that teams treat each and every person with respect – not differentiating based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies,” a representative for the initiative says.
5. Celebrate Pride year-round and in a way that benefits the community
Pride is an awesome opportunity to showcase your support for the community, and we encourage you to do so in ways that benefit the community as you celebrate, and to keep it up all year round. Have a special “Pride drink” or designed a special Pride t-shirt with your logo? Pledge to donate the proceeds from these items to an LGBTQ+ organization in your area. And consider doing it all year, not just in June so that it is clear your actions aren’t performative, but are lasting and impactful.
Inclusivity Year-Round is Imperative
While societal support for the LGBTQIA+ community continues to grow, it’s of the utmost importance for you to create an inclusive environment in your restaurant for both patrons and employees. “If customers find a place is inclusive and welcoming of the LGBTQIA+ community, they will be inclined to not only frequent the establishment, but also refer others. On the flip side, LGBTQIA+ customers who feel alienated will take their business elsewhere.”
This community has undeniably made a significant impact on the business and economic landscape. Recognizing and catering to this diverse audience has proven to be a successful strategy for many establishments, especially restaurants. As society becomes more progressive, businesses that embrace diversity and create a welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals stand to reap substantial benefits.
However, measuring success in reaching this audience requires more than simply attracting LGBTQIA+ customers. It also requires an understanding of their unique needs and preferences. Restaurants can implement various strategies to gauge their effectiveness in selling to the LGBTQIA+ community, such as conducting customer surveys, tracking feedback on social media platforms, and partnering with LGBTQIA+ organizations. It’s important to track patterns to learn what works best for your restaurant business.
By employing these methods and consistently adapting new approaches, restaurants can ensure they’re not only meeting the expectations of the LGBTQIA+ community but also fostering an inclusive atmosphere that promotes genuine acceptance and equality.
Restaurants should focus on building this inclusiveness year-round, knowing the positive effects will resonate within the LGBTQIA+ community, and with other marginalized groups, which will build loyalty and word-of-mouth support. By expanding your own awareness of the issues the queer community faces, you will then pass these values onto your staff members, creating a team environment that roots for everyone, year-round.
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