June is PRIDE month, and after a year of dormancy, restaurant operators have been rolling out the rainbow carpet with specials and celebrations that are bigger and better than ever. According to Brizo data, approximately 72,000 restaurants across North America identify as being LGBTQIA+ friendly. Out of a whopping 852,386 restaurants overall, one might think it’s a low number. The reality is likely that many establishments have simply overlooked indicating their welcoming status on their websites.
Source: Restaurants in North America that identify as LGBTQIA+ friendly.
Outside of PRIDE offerings, though, restaurants should be mindful of rainbow-washing. Being a truly inclusive space needs to be more meaningful than hanging a PRIDE flag out for a month. It also means more than gender-neutral bathrooms. Rather, it starts with things you may not see, but that you can feel, like the ethos of the brand and its employees. And it ends with actions the community can count on.
“Now more than ever all businesses need to be intentional in the work they do to create inclusive spaces. We are all better together and businesses should lead in this process,” says Jeremy Edmonds, director of people at Snooze An A.M. Eatery in Denver, Colorado. The breakfast and brunch spot has partnered with PFLAG to raise awareness and funds that will be directed specifically toward PFLAG. “Our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) shows up in everything we do from the Snoozer [Ed. note: staffers] experience to how we market to our guests,” says Edmonds. The company employs inclusive hiring practices and asks team members to sign a DEIB commitment statement and pledge to uphold Snooze’s “compass point” (value) of individuality. Edmonds says, “Some of the things we have done to create a safe space are education on why pronouns are important; creating a space where it is okay to ask if you don’t understand something or know what term to use; and, holding each other accountable to learning about each other so everyone can express themselves for who they are.”
The craft beer industry is booming, but progress around inclusivity has been slow. However, the folks at Bronx Brewery & Empanology in the Port Morris area of New York’s boogie-down borough have been — and are — putting in the work. “If you look at breweries across the United States, we are doing things that others aren’t. We’re always pushing the boundaries to create an environment that is inclusive for people from all walks of life, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. We understand that we’re bigger than beer,” says Brandon Espinosa, vice president of brand & partnerships. The brewery has hosted drag nights and partners with Callen-Lorde, which offers primary care, sexual health, women’s health, transgender health, HIV treatment/prevention, and case management services in an affirming and supportive environment, regardless of ability to pay. Their latest PRIDE beer release, “Some Like It Hopped”, features artwork created by a bartender who identifies as part of the queer community, donates a portion of proceeds to Callen-Lorde. “It gave her a platform to create art and share her story,” he says. “We believe in beer’s power to bring people together.”
At Nightbird in San Francisco, California, executive chef Kim Alter thinks running an inclusive kitchen makes good business sense. “People don’t just go to a restaurant based on a Michelin star. When they decide where to spend money, they do so at places that support people. They want to know that they treat LGBTQIA+ and immigrant employees fairly, that they’re well-paid. I would never go to a place that doesn’t support these communities,” she says. Alter, who has done PRIDE menus before the pandemic, says her hiring practices include asking people what their pronouns are and educating staffers about the restaurant’s culture. “There’s no tolerance around saying something inappropriate or making someone feel unsafe,” Alter says. She recently hired a person who is in the process of transitioning. “I don’t think it’s the only reason they chose to work with me, but I made sure to tell them about Kaiser Permanente having one of the best trans programs and I made sure to get them that information and be certain that our health insurance would cover that for them,” she says. “It’s important to have these conversations.”
At caterers TomKat in Nashville, Tennessee, Kendall Morales, owner and director of events and sales, says everyone at that operation and its sister spots Acme Feed & Seed (whose motto is “Y’all All Are Welcome!”) and The Southern Steak and Oyster, takes pride in embracing and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. The company is hosting a virtual PRIDE live-stream benefiting Just Us at the Oasis Center on Sun 6/27 from 1-3PM with 100% of the profits going to Just Us (tickets available here.). And they recently partnered with DELL to again support the Just Us organization. The team also hosted a wedding shoot for a local publication that turned out to be a surprise proposal (pictured) between Magan and Lyndi, the two employees who were serving as the models, who are now married and have a daughter. “We’re involved in the community. As a family-owned and locally owned business, doing these things are just part of our values,” Morales notes.
Surbhi Sahni is the chef-owner of TAGMO, a regional Indian cuisine and specialty sweets online store, based in NYC. She and her team have created a special PRIDE collection that is discounted in honor of the month. She has also teamed up with chef Pretti Mistry, a queer nonbinary 2nd-generation Indian for TAGMO’s monthly In the Kitchen series to celebrate PRIDE. Sahni’s advocacy doesn’t end there. She is very mindful of creating a safe atmosphere in the kitchen. “If you have a staff member that’s working with you, understanding their pronouns and making them feel comfortable in the space is important.” And while it’s good to be curious, Surbhi cautions against asking people invasive questions. “Potentially embarrassing inquiries are never good!”
Location also helps create a baked-in feeling of inclusivity. CEO Vladimir Borodin of Burger & Lobster, which has two locations in Manhattan and specializes in offering luxe prime burgers and wild, fresh Atlantic lobsters, chose to open in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood, to serve LGBTQIA+ diners. The eatery regularly participates in PRIDE events, but Borodin says it’s more than marketing. “It’s in our DNA and part of our true values, and we want to make luxury ingredients available to everyone.” He adds, “Being in Chelsea is special for us because the area is known for this community. We like to say that we open restaurants for the communities we’re in, the neighbors, and then we invite them to move in, hang out, and enjoy their lives!”
As someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, Anastasia Soldano, the general manager at Michelin-starred Musket Room in New York City, inclusivity is close to her heart. She regularly checks in with her team at staff meetings and empowers them with a feeling of ownership where they feel like this is their home, their restaurant. While she feels PRIDE is important, she believes restaurants celebrating it must pay the movement more than lip service. “I think if you’re doing things during PRIDE and putting a rainbow sticker on it, it should be for the right reasons. It’s not just about putting out a big rainbow flag in your window to get more tourists. It’s not just about generating revenue.” At Musket Room, they do countless fundraisers for non-profits, such as The Lower East Side Girls Club. This month, they’ve partnered with Supergay Spirits and Ruby Hibiscus Water, serving punches, spritzes, and snow cones, with the proceeds going to SAGE, which is a foundation that supports LGBTQIA+ seniors. “If you’re going to do things for PRIDE, it should be for the right reason. It should be to help the community. There are a lot of kids who are queer or trans or however they identify that don’t have a place to go. So if you have the opportunity to help, why not?”
Celebrity chef David Burke, who has establishments in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Saudi Arabia, believes the hospitality industry has been at the leading edge of inclusivity. “I would say we were among the first to be hospitable and welcoming. People in this community have worked in the industry forever and restaurants have always been more free-spirited than the corporate world.” He and his team embrace guests of any orientation. “When someone walks in your restaurant door, they walk into your house. That’s the way it is. You’re going to be welcoming to all!”
About Brizo Data, Inc.: Brizo Data helps the foodservice industry by providing the strategic data you need to win in your market. We empower restaurant vendors and restauranteurs with better data for Business Intelligence, Market Research, and Competitive Analysis. Brizo monitors the online footprint of every food serving establishment in the US and Canada – from social media presence, online reviews, menu items, market composition, and even technological choices.