Beyond Pride: 8 Ways Restaurateurs Can Promote LGBTQ+ Inclusivity Year-Round

By: Tyler Cumella

7 Minute Read

Jun 21, 2019

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Pride Profile

When you think of Pride, what words come to mind?

Inclusivity. Acceptance. Community. Remembrance. Celebration.

Those are just a few of the notions associated with LGBTQ+ Pride month, recognized every June to commemorate the Stonewall riots and the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Over the past few years, Pride has seen increased popularity and visibility around the world. With this, many restaurants, large and small, have stepped in to offer a show of support to the LGBTQ+ community during the month of June. But when June comes to an end, restaurateurs can continue to promote inclusivity and support the community.

Restaurants Launch Marketing Campaigns for LGBTQ+ Pride  

This year, a number of major restaurant brands launched new marketing campaigns in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride month.

Sweetgreen partnered with Covenant House to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ homeless youth, donating $1 from each bowl purchased on June 2 (up to $25,000) to support programming for LGBTQ+ youth. Shake Shack is offering Pride Shakes and selling limited edition Pride swag, with all proceeds from the retail collection being contributed to a $25,000 donation to The Trevor Project. Chipotle’s “Love What Makes You Real” campaign celebrates the LGBTQ+ community with limited edition pride gear benefitting The Trevor Project.

Shake Shack LGBTQ+ Pride

Major restaurant marketing campaigns such as these were not prominent even a few years ago. So how are we to account for the growing trend of restaurants supporting LGBTQ+ causes and organizations? One reason is that diners now want to support restaurants that take a stand on social issues and have a high sense of purpose. Here’s some research that supports this:

  • According to Think With Google, in 2014, prior to marriage equality, 45% of consumers younger than 34 years old said they were more likely to do repeat business with an LGBTQ-friendly company.
  • Research from Edelman shows that a brand's social and political stance is a deciding factor for 59% of Americans on whether or not they buy from a business.
  • According to a 2018 survey by Community Marketing and Insights, more than 75% of LGBTQ+ Americans will spend more at a company that supports equality. In addition, one-third of U.S. consumers feel more positively about a brand that supports Pride.

Diners are seeking out restaurants that are socially-conscious and pro-LGBTQ+ more than ever before, but they have also grown wary of businesses potentially using Pride month to capitalize on the community for profit and personal gain. The best way to combat such wariness is to throw yourself into giving back to the LGBTQ+ community year-round, and making sure your restaurant is a safe, hospitable space for the community as well.

We spoke to LGBTQ+ restaurant owners and operators who shared eight ways restaurateurs can promote inclusivity beyond Pride month.

1. Make it clear that your restaurant is a safe space 

When LGBTQ+ guests and employees enter your establishment, you want them to feel safe and welcomed. Tactics to creating such a space can run the gamut depending upon your business needs.

Lindsay Shaw, owner of Lindsay’s Boulder Deli in Boulder, Colorado, believes that letting people know your restaurant is a safe space can be as simple as hanging Pride flags outside or in the window.

“I keep a Pride flag up 365 days a year. It is large, and it is proud. I don't know if anyone needs to keep one as large as mine is [laughs], but keeping a flag, whether it be the rainbow Pride flag or the Transgender Pride flag, is an easy way to let people know that your restaurant is a safe zone.”

Lindsay Shaw

Owner of Lindsay's Boulder Deli

For Jim Morgrage, co-owner/general manager of Club Café in Boston, Massachusetts, creating a safe space is more complex.

“We have a security team that is made up of the community that we serve. We have security seven nights a week, and on busy nights, there’s as many as eleven or twelve of them in the space. We train them to listen, to respect everybody that comes through the door, and just do the best they can in identifying problems and dealing with them in a way that’s respectful and peaceful to the customer.”

Jim Morgrage

Co-Owner/General Manager of Club Café

Whatever your needs may be, aim to create a restaurant environment that LGBTQ+ guests and employees can enter and feel at ease.

2. Set a positive example from the top down 

Set a positive example at the owner and manager level, and you will create a positive cycle rooted in the adage “Treat people how you want to be treated.”

“We are very inclusive and provide respect to each one of our staff members in the hopes that they will, in turn, impart that on every guest that walks through the door,” Morgrage says.

Your management style and restaurant values will trickle down and affect the way your team interacts with guests.

Lindsay's Boulder Deli LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

3. Hire inclusively and focus on values 

Hiring restaurant staff plays two roles as it applies to promoting inclusivity.

The first is hiring without bias. John Childers, owner of MJ’s Tavern in Norfolk, Virginia, tells us, “When hiring, you really have to look past things like race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Instead, look at culture fit and what they bring to the table.”

The second is looking at behavior and values when interviewing candidates. Haley Fortier, owner/operator of haley.henry and nathálie in Boston, Massachusetts, even gets ahead of the curve by doing research before interviewing candidates.

“Before we even interview someone, I check out their social media profiles if they’re publicly available. I look for anything that’s going to be a red flag for me. If they’re posting things on their social profiles that don’t align with my establishments’ core values, I won’t bother interviewing them.”

Haley Fortier

Owner/Operator of haley.henry and nathálie

Your restaurant will only be as inclusive as your employees are, so share your company values with candidates, discuss with them, and determine if there’s good alignment.

4. Let guests be identified how they want to be identified 

There are a few things you can do to be respectful of guests who identify as transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming.

Gender-neutral restrooms are important here. Providing them in your business is an easy way to help people feel comfortable and safe. If you’re not sure of the best way to go about doing so, meet with members of your local LGBTQ+ community to receive education and solicit feedback.

Being inclusive can also be as simple as having your employees ask customers what their name and gender pronouns are, instead of assuming. Lindsay Shaw tells us, “Be open to addressing and hearing people the way they want to be heard and identified.” 

5. Provide LGBTQ+ awareness and ally training

You and your team may be inclusive and open-minded, but if you don’t identify as LGBTQ+, chances are you don’t have a full understanding of certain nuances and issues in the community.

Partner with LGBTQ+ organizations in your community to provide your team with training and education. Jim Morgrage and the team at Club Café work to stay on top of the issues.

“New issues and challenges come up all the time, so we have meetings and invite people in to speak with the staff from different communities and organizations. I myself don’t know all of the issues, so it helps to build good relationships with folks in the community. Go out there and find people who are experts on the issues. It’s easy for us to call on our partners and share their information with the staff.”

Jim Morgrage

Co-Owner/General Manager of Club Café

If you don’t have access to resources in your local community, you can do research online. Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD offer strong reading materials on LGBTQ+ subjects.

6. Include LGBTQ+ people in your marketing initiatives

Unless it’s Pride month, restaurant marketing predominantly features people who are straight and cisgender. Feature LGBTQ+ people in your campaigns, and you will promote an inclusive restaurant environment that welcomes all.

When working on such marketing initiatives, hire and collaborate with LGBTQ+ people and work with queer nonprofit partners. This will show that you're serious about supporting the community. 

7. Do your homework on vendors and products 

There are plenty of vendors and companies that sell products in honor of Pride. The key is to understand their values and what they support year-round.

Haley Fortier believes it’s all about doing your homework.

“Really take a look at the companies you’re supporting or whose products you’re selling. On the haley.henry Instagram page, we recently posted about a new Pride beer by SingleCut Beer we started carrying. Before selling it, we looked into their history and found that they do a lot of donating to LGBTQ+ causes. It’s not something they do one-off to profit from Pride month. A lot of companies do that unfortunately. If you’re going to jump on the bandwagon, hopefully you’re doing your research based on what these companies and vendors stand for.”

Haley Fortier

Owner/Operator of haley.henry and nathálie

Carefully selecting which vendors you work with and the products you sell leads to more thoughtful support of the LGBTQ+ community.

8. Give back to your community year-round 

One of the biggest actions you can take to promote inclusivity year-round is to actively give back to LGBTQ+ organizations and causes in your community in whatever way you can.

John strives to ensure that MJ’s Tavern is an active member of the community in Norfolk.

“MJ’s Tavern is a member of the local Pride organization. We’re a member of Hampton Roads’ LGBT Chamber of Commerce. We open our doors for local LGBTQ+ groups to have their meetings here. We sponsor Stonewall Sports, which is an open and inclusive sports league. We help local churches. We help raise money for local Pride events. We’ve been all over the board, and we’ve been very blessed to be able to support them all.”

John Childers

Owner of MJ's Tavern

Jim and the Club Café team have built giving back into their restaurant culture, operating as a business and a community center. They invite non-profits and community groups to use the space whenever it's available. They are also huge supporters of Harbor to the Bay, the AIDS benefit bike ride Jim started with owner Frank Ribaudo in 2003 with some other community leaders.

Promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the restaurant every day of the year shows a strong dedication to hospitality and community. As Haley tells us, “It’s important that you celebrate and give back throughout the year. We're not just supporting Pride because it’s June. We're supporting it because we want to support and delight everyone year-round.”

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