Sexism in the hospitality industry

A bruhaha erupted on Facebook and Instagram on Friday, October 4, when Julie Reiner posted the following in response to an award given to Charles Schumann by The World’s 50 Best Bars 2019:

Charles Schuman asked me to be in his film, and then told me in the interview that women should only work the lunch shift making way for the real (male) bartenders. He is a proud misogynist, and our industry not only accepts this, but continues to reward him with lifetime achievement awards. How is it ok to overlook his blatant sexism?

The film in question is this YouTube Movie, Bar Talks. Also, this 2009 article from The Japan Times has been cited, although the article’s author, Nick Coldicott, has now renounced his own writing, stating,

I wasn’t good enough, or careful enough to convey it properly. Charles has a very particular sense of humour, and I didn’t know him well enough then and wasn’t skilled enough to profile him well. I’ve had many chances to get to know him better since then, and I’ll say this: I’ve never known a bartender more loyal to his employees or who commands more loyalty, and that’s true of women and men. I can’t comment on the movie clip, which was super uncomfortable, but the article part: that’s my fault. (Facebook, Oct 7)

Despite his protestations, Coldicott may have gotten it more right than he realizes, but yes, there’s some room for nuance, and the language barrier must introduce some benefit of the doubt.

Various persons, including Helmut Adam (Mixology Magazin, BCB, Made in GSA), whose point of view I do not take lightly, rushed to defend Schumann, while acknowledging that Schumann needed to explain himself. As of this writing, we haven’t heard from Schumann or from The World’s 50 Best Bars. Needless to say, the comments on both sides contained a fair amount of ad hominem ugliness and dismissiveness that are usually strenuously avoided (in public) in this industry. It also was quite clear that many of the Americans had never heard of Schumann. Quite a few industry women—mostly Americans—have cheered Julie’s message, but we’ve seen more heat than light, so far, and the entire matter has the unfortunate characteristics of crossing language barriers and pitting America against Germany. The one thing we’re still not really talking about is sexism in the industry.

Alas, talking about sexism in any context is as hard, or harder, than talking about racism. I acknowledge that racism and sexism are systemic things, and that just as racism is something that mainly needs to be addressed by white people, sexism mainly needs to be addressed by males. So, yesterday, I gave it a shot: I engaged a German bartender who, in response to Helmut Adam’s post defending Schumann’s character, commented “People are too sensitive and get offended way too easily these days…”. I chose to engage this individual because I recognized his casually dismissive language and I noticed that he ran a bartending school. I got more than I bargained for. The exchange consumed my entire day. It was utterly exhausting. I did not do an ideal job—this was my first amateur attempt, and I never felt like I had the tools I needed. I was not apparently successful. Still, I am posting the transcript, below, with the last names removed. If this episode is at all illustrative and this forum can somehow add something constructive to a discussion of sexism in the hospitality industry, then I’m all for it.

Mike:
People are too sensitive and get offended way too easily these days…

Fiona:
[eyerolling emoji]

Martin:
Did that roll off the tongue easily for you, Mike? I wonder which “people” you have in mind? Your inferiors? Women? Me?

Mike:
[links to a dictionary definition of “people”]

Paul:
So, you don’t find sexism offensive Mike?

Mike:
Sexism yes, what CS said: not as much as you do I guess. I don’t agree with what he said, however I do think the world has bigger problems to deal with.

Martin:
Ok, so basically, you agree sexism is offensive in principle, but you—yourself—are privileged to not suffer from it, so it must not be that important? You rush to be dismissive, and in so doing, you dismiss the experiences and concerns of a lot of women in your industry. The world may indeed have bigger problems, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Perhaps it’s time to listen more?

Mike:
Listen? Lots of the stuff you just wrote here came from YOU, I never said those things…maybe you should listen more as well? Don’t point your finger at me. In my bar, I hired more than 60% women, I had female bartenders, female DJs, I even had a female bouncer… And they earned exactly as much money as the male employees! If you’re mad at CS, then be mad at him, not at me!!!

[J]ust so you understand my point of view (and please read my words carefully and do not interpret them in a different way): I don’t judge people by what the did/said ONCE. I judge them by what the do/say for a longer period of time. Example: there ist a terrible video on YouTube, where Charles Schumann is making a Whiskey Sour (it’s still online). That video is horrible, a terrible example of a bartender. Does this one video make him a terrible bartender? Of course not! His words are harsh, and I don’t agree with him, but nobody recalls when he was a judge at a cocktail competition, and he chose the FEMALE bartender as the winner, nobody remembers how he gave good advice to female bartender friends of mine, who still look up to him as their “godfather”. I know you and many others are angry about what he said, and that’s fine. I don’t shares that anger, because the truth is: NO female bartender will lose her job because of what he said, no female bartender will NOT get hired because of what he said, it won’t affect females at all. There are more females behind bars than ever, and that’s great! So why bother??

Martin:
I fear you have missed the point, Mike, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. If it is true that you are involved in running a bartending school, I hope you will take a new interest in the chronic problems with men that women in the hospitality industry face, because you are in a position of influence. Cheers!

Mike:
I always tell the female students: every male colleague, every male client will not take you serious as a bartender, just because you’re a female. And the best way to handle that is to be better, more professional than everyone else. And I teach them the tricks and the knowledge to do just that. And it works, they get the respect, the are not seen as females, they are looked at as professional bartenders. One girl was a busser and always got yelled at by the head bartender. And guess what: she is now HIS boss!!! Don’t judge me just because I don’t share the same anger as you…

Martin:
I think you’re missing the point. Moreover, the approach you describe—sucking it up and working harder—sure sounds exactly like the old system that these women are protesting, however practical and pragmatic it may seem to you.

Mike:
It produces results, results that changed these women’s lives in a positive way. I’m a foreigner wherever I live, and the only way not to be treated as a foreigner is to be better than others, and it works! I can sit around and “be offended” due to the (hidden) racism but it won’t change a single thing. You find CS’s words offensive, fine, I don’t because they don’t have any affect on anyone’s lives, they don’t matter, they do not make any difference.

I’m not missing the point, I’m showing you why “in so doing, you dismiss the experiences and concerns of a lot of women in your industry.” is completely wrong, I have brought a lot of young women INTO this industry, preparing them as best as I could to be successful. Instead of “being offended”, instead of “protesting”, I choose to make a difference, to act, not just complain… I’m NOT missing any point.

Martin:
Sorry, but you are missing the point. From the beginning of this exchange, I’ve been trying to show you that your tossed off remark about people being too sensitive was dismissive. (In fact, it’s a textbook example of the language of oppression.) It was dismissive. See Fiona’s little eye-rolling emoji response? That was a good clue. You doubled-down (bigger problems). Then you told me about how wonderful you’ve been, hiring women and training them to be successful in a sexist industry—that actually great! But it’s still a sexist industry. So, in the end, this is not actually about the women. It’s about the men. This is about you. This is about the men you train. This is about what you say and how you say it, and WHY what you say and how you say matters. It does matter, and we need to do better.

Mike:
OK, here’s an example (regarding your point about me not being offended just because I’m male): Had CS said that Asians do not belong in/behind bars, do you think I would be offended? Of course not! I couldn’t care less who says what … Regarding my remark about people (in general, I never said “you people” or spoke about anyone in particular… I feel like in Tropic Thunder… ) being too sensitive: I hate this shitstorm attitude, which is a part of our modern day culture. Complaining via social media doesn’t take courage, it doesn’t take any effort, it’s easy to point at others and condemn them on social media. Why not confront them in real life? Send them a direct message? Call them? Talk to them? Try to change their mind? Spit in their face if you will, but do something REAL? It’s not “language of oppression” (how do you come up with this stuff?), it’s because I like heros in REAL life, not on social media. And regarding the “bigger problems” remark: as I’ve said many times, what CS said is wrong, but it won’t affect anybody’s life, job etc. Other topics, like Brexit, trade war, climate change, war in the middle east etc will affect millions of lives. Friends will lose their jobs, their business, their families and lives possibly. Every female bartender out there still has her job, her career, and there will be many more new female bartenders to hit the scene in the future, despite of what CS said! And regarding your last point: it’s not the industry that’s sexist, it’s society (male CLIENTS too will not respect a female bartender unless she proves them wrong), I can’t change society, I can’t change how EVERY man thinks! But I can help women be better bartenders and change people minds one step at a time, honest and well earned respect! - feel free to hit me a DM if you feel like continuing, I think we have hijacked Helmuts post way too much

Martin:
The language thing is actually quite interesting (and deeply unsettling): there is a collection of things we all say casually—reflexively, unthinkingly—whose only purpose is to silence dissent. They’re dismissive, and their (not necessarily intentional) effect is to prop up systems of racism, sexism or ____ism. We white Americans use them all the time.

I am quite sympathetic to your distaste for the messy, ugly social media stuff, but your alternatives aren’t real alternatives, are they? This isn’t really just some obscure personal disagreement. You contend that none of this will affect anybody’s life, job, etc., but there seem to be an awful lot of women around who don’t agree.

Society is sexist, but you can influence your part of society to make it less so. But you cannot do that until you recognize the ways you are unintentionally a part of the problem. And so am I. And so is Charles Schumann (and this is the first and only time I have mentioned him in this exchange).

I’m going to bed soon. Thank you for not storming off in a huff. I respect that.

Mike:
Women disagree to what CS said, but who’s career was affected by his words? Nobody’s… And just because something doesn’t offend me does NOT mean I agree with it. It simply isn’t important enough for me to pay attention, because as I said, even though many people’s feelings are hurt by what he said, nobody got fired because of this. The Thomas Cook disaster for example is a whole different story, because many people lost their jobs without any wrongdoing…

The first question you sent me is a perfect example: In my post I talked about people in general. However, you misunderstood this and thought I was speaking to a specific group of people. I did not, but that’s how you wanted to understand my post. When I said there are more important topics, you immediately thought I don’t care about sexism because “I am privaleged to not suffer from it”, which again is wrong. I said the CS story is not important enough, I wasn’t talking about sexism um general. Again you understood what you wanted to understand, not what I actually said. I told you: I don’t just TALK or POST about equal rights, I ACT accordingly, pay women the same wage as men, give women the same jobs as men, etc, I do not make a difference between the sexes. Here’s another example: When I’m at the playground with my son, he likes to hang with his arms and pretend he’s a monkey. The other day I was at a playground with a black friend of mine and his son, who was hanging by his arms as well. I called him a monkey and immediately got a response from behind me: how dare I call this black kid a monkey, I’m a racist. I told this person: " YOU are the one seeing different colors of skin, I just see two kids I love pretending to be animals." As I said before, feel free to DM me if you want to continue, but please do NOT misread my words.

[At this point, I decided there was no point to continuing the exchange]

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Schumann’s has published something this afternoon:

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I’ll add that I’m in Berlin and this is pretty much the talk of the town. I don’t think the issue is pitting the US vs Germany as much as the US vs Europe. While most people here (thankfully) acknowledge the declarations he made are unacceptable and that he should apologise unreservedly, they also think it shouldn’t go further than that.

I also think that a lot of people here are not current with the state of the US discourse on issues such as sexism and racism and don’t really understand some of the vocabulary or some of the concepts that are taken for granted now on your side of the world. They haven’t really percolated here. This doesn’t help fostering healthy debate, especially when it takes place on platforms that are entirely unsuited to the task and create their own toxic dynamics.

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Thank you for the link and comments. That all sounds about right to me. Reading the comments beneath Schumann’s statement is discouraging, however.

I’m not sure the Schumann matter is closed. Certain others are going to have to decide how far to press their concerns about him and international competitions. We shall have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, for those that genuinely want to see a broad shift in industry standards, the focus needs to shift at some point soon.

You are probably right.

It isn’t. A response from 50 Best Bars is still being asked for/demanded–either an apology for giving Schumann the Icon award, or and actual revocation of the award.

I wonder if, after this, the industry will continue to invest time and energy into these awards and, by doing so, give them power and meaning. After all, 50 Best Bars giving the Schumann the Icon award would not have been a big deal if the community hadn’t made it so by whole-heartedly accepting 50 Best Bars–a ridiculous organization of less than a decade old–as a big deal.

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Hmm, what about Tales, an organization a little over ten years old, being made a big deal of by bartenders and… awarding that very award in 2017 to the same name to no fuss at all?

I’m not sure the ‘organization’ is to blame here. Over 500 people voted for this award. He came on top. Maybe 50 Best should have done their homework. But no one did in 2017 either.

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I’m not defending the Spirited Awards, either. To me, the importance these prizes have attained within the industry has been nothing short of a death knell to the creativity and idealism that once marked the movement.

Also, I’m not blaming the awards organizations per se. I’m faulting the industry going completely all in on them.

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Schumann gave back his Icon award.

A couple observations:

  1. Schumann has issued an apology… barely… for being insulting. The words “misunderstood”, “misinterpretations”, “misleading”, and reference to a “factual and respectful atmosphere” suggest that he more sees himself as the victim.

  2. His statement “In light of the controversy surrounding my person and the awarding of The World´s 50 Best Bars - Industry Icon Award 2019, I am hereby returning the award. I don‘t want it anymore.” strikes me as a touch sulky.

I hope something positive can eventually fall out of all this. I’m not yet sure what that might be.

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Nothing will. I don’t think anyone emerged from the episode particularly handsomely.

Apparently we communicate in pictures these days.

Oct 8:

Oct 9:

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And in the end, nobody’s happy, and all the anger remains.

What’s astounding is that anyone thinks an org like 50 Best should function as some kind of moral leader. They are interested in power and money, like all awards organizations.

My suspicion is that—as usual in this industry—the only progressive path forward lies through big liquor (i.e., the sponsors). Get them on board for standards, and everyone that wants their sponsorship money has to play by the new rules.

Not sure what those new rules might be, however.

I disagree. In every battle for rule-setting, the brands win. They call the tune. And looking to Big Liquor to lead the moral charge–or any corporation for that matter–is a fool’s errand. They’ll wear the right face it it helps sell more liquor. But it’s a pose.

I’ve noticed on social media already that bartenders and bar owners are laying the groundwork for themselves to make it ok continue to seek and promote their own 50 Best Bars awards next year, despite the current controversy.

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This is just in more-or-less chronological order:

(Helmut Adam has been cataloguing these articles on Facebook, and I’m just reproducing the links here.)

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This is the important piece:

The actual clip makes for interesting viewing (I never had a chance to see it until now).

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Thanks for posting the omission. That one was supposed to be the first article in my list, but somehow it fell through the cracks—too many browser windows open!

Mixology Mag lived up to my expectations in terms of turning out a decent piece. (I’ve wished for years that we could have anything remotely close to their level for the American side of the industry.) My main criticism of the article is that it—like others—has paid far too much attention to the jackass comments on social media. The ad hominem stuff in those comments has been predictable, tedious and shameful. Almost all of it is the sort of casual sympathetic signaling that used to stay behind closed doors—in private, it’s a hypothetical gesture of team support, and in public, it’s idiotic. But we already know all about that, because we’re drowning in it everywhere. You have to ignore it, or at least compartmentalize it. Meanwhile, some of it was poorly-expressed (misdirected) anger over legitimate grievances, few of which have anything to do with Schumann, himself.

If Schumann is a provocateur by nature, well, he clearly ran smack into another one and failed to recognize it. In spite of—or despite—his legion of defenders, I don’t think he’s handled this adversity well or “iconically”. This is one of those trials where he needs to decide what sort of industry leader he really is, and step up, not retreat in pique. He’s actually the one with the most power to rebuild a bridge, and doing so would reflect well on him. All those years of praise heaped upon him may come with more responsibilities than he prefers.

One thing reading the comments—and in some cases, interacting with commenters—made clearer to me is that you don’t have to dig deep in this industry to encounter sexism. Plenty was trotted out casually “in the comments”. Meanwhile, thousands of industry women—basically all of them—are enduring slights (and worse) on a daily basis. Progress will require vast amounts of focused humility from men, for that is the only way they can develop empathy skills, and adjust. But most men would prefer initiatives, a finish line, metrics, and a bit of glory, and that’s not how it works. If we’re really going to make sexism a priority, this Schumann affair is probably just the first kerfuffle. Based on what we’ve seen in civil rights history, the sort of change required will come slowly, haltingly, and with great pain, possible violence, and various collateral injustices.

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Nail on the head there. I couldn’t agree more.


I hate to dip my toe into this hot lava subject, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t say a thing or two that I have learned about relationships with other humans in my short time living here on Earth.

My wife and I rarely get into arguments. We honestly get along pretty well, but now and then and with any relationship, there is a problem that arises. Neither of us is the yelling type, but we are both something far worse. We are sharp-witted and have even sharper tongues. We can cut quickly and to massive detriment with a few choice words.

One of my horrible tactics of relationship warfare is to bring up things from the past that I know will sting or insult. It is a cheap shot — a low blow. I remember a few years back, she stopped me in the middle of a spat and asked that I not do that because it wouldn’t get us anywhere. We had already gone over whatever issue it was I was going to bring back from the dead in the past. We had come to a meeting point and moved on. There was no need to keep kicking that dead horse, and she was right.

The thing is we have to get along. We agreed to work together to get through any problems. We made a vow to forgive each other. If my wife apologizes for something and I forgive her, we both have to know that both the apology and the forgiveness are legit and then we can move forward. To bring up something from the past that was apologized for and forgiven means that one of us lied about either being sorry about it or forgiving the other person. That means I did not forgive her, so that hurt has festered and become worse. To truly forgive is to let go.

To bring all of this back around to sexism in the hospitality industry, we (meaning all of us regardless of sex, race, religion, creed, etc.) are supposed to be working together and working together to make things better! To make someone have a better day with good service and a good drink. To make your partner behind the bar better, or your staff better, or even the products better. We should be aiming for better with everything we do. It shouldn’t stop there either! There is a whole big world out there that needs better. There are, of course, bad apples, and then there are people that just make a mistake. We are human; we make mistakes.

Apologizing is hard. Forgiving is much harder.

I am not here to point any fingers, but I can say one thing we aren’t seeing enough in the world right now is forgiveness. When I ask to be forgiven for doing something I regret, I know it can be hard for my wife, a friend, or a co-worker to forgive me. They don’t even have to. It may take time. In submitting an apology, one’s actions should change. Hopefully, the other party can see that and in turn, issue an apology when they are ready. After that, it should stay in the past and then you have two people working together towards making each other better.

It is impossible to go backward. Everything we say and everything we do is immediately etched in the permanence of the past. With the technology of today, nothing is unseen. It can all come back to haunt. That shouldn’t mean always looking over your shoulder to see if someone is watching, but it should mean very simply to be on your best behavior —to do the right thing. If you make a mistake, own up to it and ask for forgiveness. If you forgive someone, you have to drop it.

We are all in this together. Dwelling in the past gets us nowhere. We have today to wake up and say, “I will be better.”

It is hard to forgive when you are angry. We are all so upset. I feel it everywhere I go waiting in line at the grocery store, driving to work, sitting at a bar, doing anything. Any contact with another person has this film of anger smeared across the surface. Those feelings are sometimes deep down within. Feelings from not forgiving. Feelings from not being forgiven. Can you imagine forgiving without an apology from the person that hurt you? To make the first move and say, “That was wrong, the thing you did to me, but I forgive you. You are forgiven. I hold no grudge. Be better.”

Retribution and revenge are not the answers here, but they are all we see. They are the examples laid out for us by the people we have chosen to be leaders in our political systems, our bar organizations, and our homes. Revenge is aggressive.

Forgiveness isn’t and can never be aggressive; neither is apologizing. These aren’t defensive actions either. So what is neither offensive or defensive? I would say stopping. To not defend or to attack would mean to stop and be present to see the damage caused. So I am not taking sides here because picking sides is getting us nowhere. Picking sides is a lateral move. I only want to move forward and with as many people as possible.

Again, it is hard. All of this is hard, but it is also all we have. You and I share the same living place. We are the same, no matter how different. It is all up to each one of us to make things better.

Retribution: Punishment administered in return for a wrong committed

Apologize: To make an excuse for or regretful acknowledgment of a fault or offense

Forgive: To give up resentment against or stop wanting to punish (someone) for an offense or fault; pardon

Better: To improve upon; surpass; exceed; outdo. To advance the interest of; support; give advantage to

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Good thoughts, @cocktaildoodle.

The problem with -isms is that they are systemic. They are normative. They have inertia—massive inertia. It requires herculean efforts to budge a system.

Meanwhile, we tend to think about -isms as personal attributes that reflect on the good-ness or bad-ness of an individual: she’s a racist, so she’s a bad person; he’s a sexist, so he’s a bad person. If you’re called out for sexism or racism (or ____ism), then this you are likely to freak out and go into full defensive mode, because you’re a “good person” and you know you’re a “good person”, and you MUST BE VINDICATED and stop this affront immediately! This knee-jerk, overreaction is fragility, and what it does is trigger a host of obstinate and defensive behaviors that, ultimately, help prop up and defend the system of -ism. Anger is also usually part of the reaction.

The reality is that we’re all -ists, living in a society with deeply ingrained -ism. We invented these -isms countless generations ago and they suited our natures—they particularly suited whomever the system most benefits (white people, men)—and we’re conditioned to the system. -isms are not actually individual attributes, per se, although some particularly despicable individuals have proactively embraced an -ism as a calling, or better put, a means to achieve power over others. Otherwise, -ism is just everyone doing what’s “normal” and not thinking too much about it.

But how do you get people to think about it, without the anger? Particularly when the people can find endless ways to avoid the subject, or at least avoid facing their own complicity and agency?