Atomic Grill, a barbecue restaurant in West Virginia, recently got an UrbanSpoon review that owner Daniel McCawley felt went too far: it wanted his staff to “show more skin.”
“I’m willing to accept any kind of criticism on food or service, but not the way that we have too many clothes on,” he told ThinkProgress. Worse, the review (which has since been deleted) singled out one female server in particular and “got a little obsessive, a little creepy,” he said, to the point where coworkers walked her to her car when she left. “I’m a father and a husband, I’ve got five sisters,” he said. “So this sort of thing hit home especially hard for me.”
His response wasn’t to lash out at the reviewer, however. Instead, the restaurant is offering a potato skins special, selling them for $7 through Memorial Day, asking customers to “Come out and help Atomic show our skins! Potato skins, that is!” And the profits from the special will be donated to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services. When asked about the decision to donate the money, McCawley said, “We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is.” He explained that the organization does a lot for women’s rights in West Virginia. “It seemed like a no-brainer there.”
The special is going well so far. “We’re getting outstanding support from the community and all over the world,” he said. The restaurant just got support from Australia and he said a woman in Oregon called to donate money so that his staff could hand out potato skins to whoever came in. “We couldn’t have asked for such a great response.”
The response to the incident at Atomic Grill has been a lighthearted way to address an uncomfortable review, but the problem of sexual harassment is pervasive in the restaurant industry. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said it’s the single largest source of claims; of the sexual harassment claims made in 2011, 37 percent came from the food service industry. A survey from ROC United of more than 4,300 restaurant workers nationwide found that more than one in ten said they or a coworker had experienced sexual harassment, although the survey notes it’s likely an undercount. Most of the cases say abuse comes from management or coworkers, but it can come at the hands of customers as well.
Some owners can feed into or ignore this atmosphere, but McCawley said appearances and clothing “are not what we’re about.” Instead, “we’re about good food and good service for good service’s sake.”