Thursday, November 12, 2015

Crossing the line?

As you all may know by now, I work one shift a week at a local brewery. My official title is beertender, and my duties include pouring beers, helping customers choose a beer, washing glasses, taking payment for beers, and occasionally selling our other merchandise. One of my favorite things about the job (besides the shift beer) is the opportunity to talk to people. Especially when I get to talk about beer. It's definitely one of my passions. I love sharing what I know and learning from others.

One Saturday afternoon last month, I was washing glasses while we had a somewhat full taproom. Because of where our washing station is positioned, I'm usually right in front of customers sitting at the bar. I try not to eavesdrop or impede on conversations, but sometimes I'm invited in, so I join. On this particular day, there were two men sitting in those seats. I'd guess they were in their early to mid 40s, but it's hard to tell sometimes. One of the men was kind of picky from the start, annoyed that we didn't have any dark beers on tap, and the other was just very loud and boisterous. But they were paying customers, and I figured they really weren't hurting anyone.

Since the one man expressed an interest in darker beers, I advised him that our stout would probably be back in the next month or so. I also told him we'd be releasing a special peanut butter porter in a few weeks. I gave him the date and told him what I knew about the new beer. This launched into a discussion about the differences between stouts and porters. Naturally, I shared my opinion

Me: "I always think of porters as having a thinner mouthfeel, while I expect stouts to be thicker."  

Man #2: "So you're saying you like thick things in your mouth?"

I honestly didn't know how to respond to that. I'm not really even sure what I did at that moment, but my expression must have conveyed that I was uncomfortable. They joked that they'd crossed the line but did not apologize at all.

Those men remained for another hour or so, polishing off a few beers while I continued washing dishes. I stopped talking with them except to refill their beers and take their money.  I was so relieved when they finally left.

After they were gone, my taproom manager thanked me for taking care of the dishes and the noisy customers (their volume was hard to ignore). I told him it wasn't a problem except that they probably wouldn't have said to him what they said to me.  When I told him about the comment the one man had made, my manager became furious. He told me I should have come and gotten him to handle the situation.  I responded that it wasn't a big deal, that I didn't want to make a scene, and that I should expect some of that working in a brewery.  He said, "No. You never have to deal with that. No one here does."

The following week, he sent out a staff email and included a tidbit about the sexual harassment I'd encountered along with instructions on how to handle it in the future. Even though I'd been uncomfortable in the moment of the comment, I hadn't really thought about what it really meant. But his label is correct.

As I shared my story with friends, I received a myriad of responses:
-- [Laughter] You walked into that one.
-- You probably hear stuff like that a lot.
-- Men can be that way.
I don't think any of them meant to imply that the comment was normal and innocuous, but that was certainly the prevailing theme in responses. Then again, it'd been my initial reaction as well. I was shocked and uncomfortable, but until my taproom manager got upset, I didn't think it was a huge deal.

Ultimately, I think I did the best I could in just ignoring the men.  Their comment wasn't appropriate in the least, but I didn't want to make a scene. However, I'm very grateful to know my taproom manager has my back and aims to promote a safe and comfortable environment for the staff. 

What do you think? 
Was my reaction normal?  
What should I have done differently?
Have you ever encountered something like this?


  1. Oh god... I would have done the same thing as you. I'm sure I would have been uncomfortable but I wouldn't have raised alarm bells. I mean, they weren't getting physical or anything. But we often forget that it can still be mental... ugh god. That sucks. :( It suck to think that it's something we just sweep under the rug and label as "expected" or "normal".

  2. I have to say that I do think your reaction was normal. I'm sure that these men truly didn't mean any harm, some people (both male & female) don't have a good sense of decorum. They talk to everyone, even total strangers, as if they are best buddies. If these guys had made the comment in a group of friends, it would have been funny. Seeing as how they didn't know you, it's a tad creepy. But it is good to know that it is taken seriously there, and now you know what needs to be done in the future!

  3. hi. Dissenting here. They absolutely intended to make you uncomfortable. They were customers, you work there. Therefore they were in the position of power. Furthermore, you offered an informed opinion on something traditionally considered "men's," which is beer. So they wanted to put your in your place and remind you that they are men and they are in charge.

    I am so glad that the taproom manager had your back. Because if it had gone further than that, at least you had backup. What if you were working late, what if there weren't many other staff there, etc. It's good to know that management has a zero tolerance policy for this behavior.

    I personally would call for management because then you're not the bad guy - they are. And it sends a message that they can't come back and pull something like this with one of your coworkers, or try to escalate it past one rude comment.

    That said, I can understand wanting to handle it on your own, or at least try to. What I have taught myself to do (over years of's not easy) in an office setting is to pretend I don't understand. "I'm sorry - I don't get the joke?" and then put it on them to explain it to you. "I'm sorry - is that funny? I don't get it, can you explain it to me?" It takes a very awful person to do that, and usually it makes it backfire on them. This also works really well for racist or anti-Semitic comments.

  4. Honestly, my first thought when I read what you said was "that's what she said." I also tend to have the maturity of a 12 year old boy.

    That being said, I get what you are saying. I know you don't generally want to make a scene at work but generally, I find that these things are better if you say something in the moment. Don't get me wrong, they are dicks are shouldn't be saying that shit to you but if you go to your manager to "deal" with them, that sends the message that you aren't going to stand up for yourself. I'm not saying don't tell your manager as a follow up, but you would be much better off telling them yourself to stop. And it doesn't have to be anything clever or even rude. Living in a college town with a plethora or drunken idiot frat boys have steeled me against unwanted and awkward innuendo. I know it's different when you are at work and trying not to offend customers but as your manager seems to have made clear, you are well within your rights to not have to put up with that kind of crap.

    My favorite response is, "does that ever work?" which the response is usually some form of "you tell me." "Nope." Bye Felicia.

  5. I definitely would have reacted the same as you! I think in that moment, right when it's happening, it's hard to know what to do. The shock of it happening is still there and you're still thinking "did that just happen?" I also think it's easy to just shrug it off because of where you were.

    I also think it's a tricky situation. I think it's good to say something so dudes like that get that stuff like that is NOT OK. But I also know that a situation like that can get really ugly really fast. So I think I'd do a little of both. I might let one comment slide and then let my manager know about the issue. Not so he can run over, but just so he's aware that it's happening and can help keep an eye on things. I also think if they had continued I would have told them to stop in some sort of way.

    Definitely don't worry about how you reacted though. It's such a rough, tricky situation. And I am so sorry you had to deal with it!

  6. I think you did the right thing. You ignored them but still told your manager. I think that's what I would have done - or I potentially would have actually said "thats highly inappropriate" - you definitely shouldn't have to hear that OR put up with it. I think in those situations you just try to go with your gut. Ugh. Those dudes - not cool and not okay.

  7. I experienced sexual harassment at my summer camp, of all places, a few summers ago. There's a group of National Guard soldiers who volunteer at camp and bring a really cool challenge course. After I'd done the course, I remarked that the fireman's pole at the end was really hard for me because I didn't like heights. One of the younger soldiers said, "I would've thought the pole would be your favorite part." It made me very, very uncomfortable. I couldn't think of anything to say except, "That's a really inappropriate thing to say to a woman you don't know well." I ended up telling the camp director (my former coworker from when I was a staff member) how uncomfortable it made me and he went with me to speak to the officer in charge of the soldiers. I don't think that soldier was asked to return to camp.


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