Bars should be a safer place for everyone. Meet one of the women making it happen.

Amie Ward has spent her entire adult life working in hospitality, including pursuing a degree in kinesiology and wellness. It didn’t take long for her to see the pain points in the service industry, problems for which her healthcare expertise could often provide solutions. With her counseling The Healthtender, Ward provides hospitality workers with accessible approaches to handling everything from alcohol relationships to standing for long shifts without harming one’s body. Her mission to make hospitality healthier for its people physically, mentally and emotionally has now expanded to include the venue’s educational staff as executive director Safe Bars. The organization helps venues that serve alcohol create safe environments for both employees and patrons, with measures to prevent and intervene in cases of discrimination and sexual assault. The aim of the program is vital, addressing long-standing nightlife and hospitality needs that have long been under the microscope. In this edition of Voices In Food, Ward shares her story in her own words.

How safety bars make the industry safer for both workers and customers

Safe Bars tackles gender-based violence in the hospitality industry. This industry has higher rates of sexual harassment than any other. At the same time, when you look trying to prevent sexual harassment and aggression, people working in hospitality are in a very unique position to help with this. We are where people come to live an experience, with friends or by themselves. We can create that experience for them, see everyone come in and check in on the tables to make sure everyone is okay and having a good time. We can create an environment that keeps people safe. We can say how we want people to behave in our spaces. We can say, “Hey, that’s not okay.”

We go into any venue that serves alcohol and give them the tools to be able to recognize when something is going on and be able to intervene safely and non-confrontationally and set the tone for how people will experience their night and the hospitality industry in general . We teach bystander intervention: What to look for, how to trust your instincts and our “five D’s” methodology, direct, distract, delegate, document, delay. Maybe you can have an instant conversation with someone if you see something, or you can delegate to someone else, or record what’s going on, or interact with the person who is the target of the aggression rather than the actual aggressor. No matter how comfortable you are talking to people, you can safely engage. A de-escalation portion of our education has also resulted from the pandemic. We help staff understand how to help themselves or their colleagues if someone becomes aggressive.

“We can really help reframe the way people think about interactions between people and set a new tone for how we all behave and experience these spaces.”

Our goal is to help people understand the facts surrounding sexual harassment and assault, which populations are most vulnerable, why people actually do the aggression in the first place. Because of the industry we work with, we talk extensively about the fact that alcohol does not cause sexual assault. We’re breaking down a lot of the victim-blaming narratives that have allowed people to stay away from this for so long. We also talk about how alcohol can be used as a weapon to immobilize a target or camouflage an attacker’s behavior.

There are many reasons why this mission is so important. Number one, it’s just the right thing to do. Second, the service industry relies heavily on the labor of women, and disproportionately women of color. You also have a huge population of LGBTQ community members. These are vulnerable people. In hospitality, we rely so much on tips because of how low wages are. We allow certain behaviors to go unchecked because our survival is at stake. But while the workforce is vulnerable, it is also very powerful. The immediate need is that we must first protect people in the service industry. And then, because we’re creating a certain atmosphere for the community, we also have to think about providing a safe space for anyone sitting at our bars.

How Ward got involved

I started in the hospitality industry at the age of 17. I’m from Maryland and (started out as) a dishwasher in a crab house, which is the most Maryland thing you can do. From there, I was in and out of the industry working in every aspect of it, from the back of the house to the front of the house. For the past 15 years, I’ve primarily run beverage programs and focused on cocktails.

Meanwhile, I went to school for kinesiology. I have always loved sports. I went to the University of Maryland, and when I went to graduate school, I ended up doing a master’s program in kinesiology, with a focus in sociology. We were learning about the body but also about the politics of the body, and about the politics of race and gender. That’s where my advocacy and desire to fight for change came from, alongside my studies in kinesiology, and all the while working in bars and restaurants.

I thought that once I finished my master’s degree, I would teach and write. But I ended up not enjoying academia. It was publish or die… and all old white guys and very conservative, and I didn’t really fit into that space because I was a heavily tattooed person with lots of piercings, very loud and honest. I returned to hospitality because it was my happy place. I like talking to strangers. I love making drinks.

So I stayed in that world and (started) running bar programs, which felt like a team. It was a beautiful place to be. At the same time, I started to see some of the things I took for granted in terms of my health and wellness background and knowledge, areas that just don’t translate very well to the hospitality industry, especially bartending and being out late at night. I always brought healthy snacks to work and went to the gym after my shift instead of going out drinking.

“In hospitality, we rely so much on tips because of how low wages are. We allow certain behaviors to go unchecked because our survival is at stake. But while the workforce is vulnerable, it’s also very powerful.”

People started asking questions: Why Did I bring those snacks? Why was i going to the gym Coupled with seeing people in our industry not taking care of themselves and starting to have problems with alcoholism, I started talking about it more. We have our own independent craft bartending guild in Baltimore and have had monthly training opportunities at our meetings. Back in December 2015, I talked a little bit about wellness, giving everyone a breakdown of nutrition, what it does to your body when you work out, why I stretch before I bartend, and how simple it all can be. I was kind of shocked that the talk was so well received. In 2015, nobody was on this self-care train yet, so it was really cool to see people interested in it.

I began speaking at hospitality conferences, giving talks on physical wellness, nutritional wellness, and mental health. People really wanted to improve themselves and they just didn’t know how. That’s where I got the idea to start The Healthtender in 2016. I started creating meal prep programs and easy snacks that people could have on their shifts. I talked about how people could stand behind the bar without getting hurt…basically, life hacks on how to bartend and protect your body. I made the leap to doing The Healthtender full time in 2019.

Meanwhile, I did my first Safe Bars workout in 2016 and was absolutely blown away. Everything in its mission is about wellness, equality and safety. I started running workouts with Safe Bars in 2018. When the pandemic hit, all my clients had to pause everything. At the same time, there was so much going on in the industry in terms of security. There were many escalating issues that arose about how people treated service workers as a result of having to wear masks. At the same time, the craft beer world was beginning its own reckoning with sexism, discrimination and sexual assault. All of a sudden there were just ongoing trainings to be done and Safe Bars was able to create an executive director position when the founder, Lauren R. Taylor, stepped in for some (other efforts). I took this role in October 2022.

The overall goal of Safe Bars is to truly change the landscape of the hospitality industry and the wider world. My own dream to save the world is still there, because we can really help redefine the way people think about interactions between people and set a new tone for how we all behave and experience these spaces.

(tagsTo Translate)Female voices in food

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