SAFE Spaces in Breweries and Bars

On May 11, a female brewer posted her story of harassment on her Instagram (@ratmagnet) and invited others to do the same. What happened next was reminiscent of the #metoo movement in 2017. Hundreds of stories of bias, discrimination and harassment were posted in the following weeks. The conversation quickly moved beyond the close-knit beer community and received coverage from NPR and other mainstream outlets. The SAFE Institute co-hosted a webinar panel of industry reps and harassment prevention experts to discuss the path forward. This blog post is a summary of recommendations and ideas shared at the webinar.

Click Here to Watch the Full Webinar

John Gross - Moderator

Amy Averett - Director, SAFE Institute

Haleigh Harrold - Executive Director, SAFE Bars Network

Sheila Garcia - Dir. of Hospitality, Austin Beerworks; ATX Chapter Co-Leader, Pink Boots Society;   DEI Co-Chair -Texas Craft Brewers Guild

Webinar Highlights

What do we mean by ‘bad behavior’? 

Looking at the recent posts, it seems like the bad behavior falls into a couple of categories - female brewers (and others) have faced blatant harassment and in some cases, sexual assault.  Many of the posts reflected both conscious and unconscious biases - assuming that the female brewer is someone’s girlfriend or the Latinx brewer can’t possibly be the beer expert. These biases, left unchecked, can result in discriminatory hiring and promotions and can be experienced as microaggressions that eventually cause great brewers to leave the job.  All of these behaviors can contribute to a toxic and disrespectful workplace and all of these behaviors can be stopped, with the right commitment and investment in training. 

How does change start?

The first step is listening and understanding how people have been hurt by past behavior.  Start with honest conversations at all levels - what problems have we had? When have we failed to foster a safe environment for all team members and customers? The change process is most effective when every person on the team has a shared understanding of the company’s values and expectations for behavior. Look for small changes that can be made quickly, to start building trust for the harder long-term changes that might be necessary. 

How can we prepare staff to be ‘active bystanders’ when bad behavior happens?

Start with the strengths you have within your culture and team. Servers and bartenders are often very creative at heading off problems - they may have strategies to share with others. Ask the team what strategies they could be comfortable implementing tomorrow to address overconsumption or to interrupt harassment in the moment. It’s important for leaders to communicate clearly how they will have their teams’ backs. If a customer is kicked out for aggressive flirting, will their server lose their tip? What if the customer complains that they are the one being harassed if refused service? Reinforce the great parts of your company culture that are not changing (i.e.the company softball team) while addressing the problem areas (i.e. staff drinking too much on premises after hours).  

What policies and procedures should breweries have in place?

Breweries often grow from being a family business, but it’s important to have an employee handbook and clear anti-harassment policies. However, in an industry that fosters strong community between staff, customers, and vendors, an employees-only harassment policy probably isn’t enough. Consider posting a Code of Conduct that lays out anti-harassment expectations for everyone on your premises, as well as consequences for crossing lines. If your team attends a lot of industry events and festivals, make sure your policies include those scenarios.

Who needs to be Involved?

Engaging owners and managers is key to sustaining change, but buy-in is needed from every FOH and BOH team member.  Industry groups like the Brewers Association and the SAFE Bar Network can offer opportunities for managers and leaders to share best practices and talk about challenges in a supportive environment. Affinity groups, like the Pink Boots Society, can help support growth and mentoring for groups that are underrepresented in the craft beer industry.

How do we advocate for changes from festivals, events and industry associations?

If you are considering participating in an industry event, look for anti-harassment language or a Code of Conduct in the contract or registration materials. If they aren’t there, ask that they be included. Ask how harassment or other problems should be reported on site and make sure your team knows what’s expected of them. If you are organizing the event, display your Code of Conduct in multiple places, such as the registration form, in signage and in all contracts. If possible, request or provide training for volunteers working the event to ensure a consistent response to harassment issues. Caution: The visible presence of security personnel and/or law enforcement can affect how safe and welcoming the space is for BIPOC participants. It’s important to have a diverse leadership team making decisions about these issues, and striving to ensure that everyone feels safe.

How can companies rebuild trust with their staff and customers after an incident?

It’s important to make an initial response quickly, via social media or other channels. If people have been harmed, apologize and explain what initial actions the company is planning (an investigation, new training, etc.) Clearly communicate your values and where you stand, but don’t overpromise. After the initial statement, your community will look for actions, not words to convey the change. Be honest and transparent about steps you are taking. Avoid self-aggrandizing statements and victim blaming. Use caution with phrases like “zero tolerance policy” until your staff is fully trained and your policies and procedures are in place. It’s also important to build the expectations and training into new employee orientation, so new staff know exactly what to expect.

What resources are out there for smaller groups that don’t have a full HR team?

When looking for an outside HR firm to work with, make sure they are a good culture fit for your company and team. Your employees need to feel safe coming forward and will want to talk with someone who understands the nuances of your business and also demonstrates professionalism in terms of confidentiality, etc. If trust has been broken, listen carefully to your staff about what would make them feel safe speaking up. You may need a way for people to report anonymously until trust can be rebuilt. You may need to hire an outside HR firm for investigations, to ensure that it is managed professionally and impartially. Train managers how to receive reports in the supportive way possible. Reiterate again and again that you want to hear about issues that come up and give people multiple pathways to give you input. 

Additional Resources

Pink Boots Society

SAFE Institute

SAFE Bar Network

SAFE Supported Business (Coming Soon)



And finally, we're happy to include this VERY important instructional video "How to Brew Beer When You Have Big Boobs" by Betsy Lay, Co-founder and Brewer at Lady Justice Brewery in Aurora, CO.

Amy Averett

Amy Averett

Amy is the Lead Consultant at the SAFE Institute, where she shares her experience from both the corporate and nonprofit worlds. In her previous role at Alamo Drafthouse she led a culture turnaround and headed up employee engagement efforts on the heels of the #metoo movement. She holds Master's degrees in Social Work and Nonprofit Management. When she's not helping businesses create harassment-free spaces, she's watching RuPaul's Drag Race or covering household objects in glitter.