Coffee Shops & Cops – Only a Speed Bump

Image from CBS News

Image from CBS News

In the past couple of years, the national discussion about racism has been more widespread and intense than at any time in decades.  Unfortunately, this increased focus has come largely as the result of a series of tragic events, many of which have involved the police. From Ferguson, to Baltimore, to Charleston, the loss of lives has stunned communities and focused the attention of our nation. Time will tell if the current discussion about race will lead to constructive and positive conclusions.

Very recently, some news stories have surfaced about a different, though related, situation. There was an incident at a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Hartford, CT where an employee said, in front of a group of customers that included a police officer, that “…we don’t serve cops here.” There was another incident where a police officer was served a cup of coffee in Providence, R.I. on which the employee had written #blacklivesmatter. There have been reports of a few similar situations in other markets involving other brands.

Clearly, any kind of discriminatory behavior or treatment of law enforcement officers helps no one and does nothing to strengthen our communities. In Hartford, the entire incident was resolved quickly and constructively. The store manager and the employee followed the police officer to his car and apologized on the spot. Spokespersons for the franchise group that owns that Dunkin’ Donuts store, as well as for the parent company, issued this statement:

“We are aware, Dunkin’ Donuts & our franchisees share a commitment to the well-being & fair treatment of all of guests. The crew member exhibited poor judgement & the franchisee has apologized to the police officer on behalf of Dunkin’ Donuts.” The state police also followed-up with a statement of support. So, what does all this mean?

First, it is understandable that law enforcement officials would be offended by these incidents. There is nothing easy about being a police officer and most departments are committed to working effectively with their communities to protect the public. In fact, many police departments nationwide have implanted community policing programs, aimed specifically at improving police and community relationships at the local level. It is important not to tolerate discrimination against law enforcement officials and also important to keep these rare incidents in perspective.

Second, although Dunkin’ Brands can speak for itself, as President of MFHA, I know the company very well and can speak of their commitment to embracing inclusion both at the workplace and in the markets they serve. It is unthinkable that they would support a policy of discrimination against police, and there is absolutely no evidence they have done so.

In addition, Dunkin’ Brands is deeply committed to working with their communities, to promoting multicultural employees and servicing multicultural guests. They are industry leaders in food safety, have a great brand to protect, and any suggestion that a guest would be served something that had been altered in any way is simply inconceivable.  This is not a company that would tolerate discrimination against, or mistreatment of, any of their guests.

Third, remember that companies like Dunkin’ Brands are represented by tens of thousands of employees who interact with the public every day. It should not be surprising that someone might, on occasion, say something they shouldn’t or otherwise convey an opinion that is inappropriate for the situation. People make mistakes and, fortunately, in these instances no significant harm was done. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t said something we wish we could take back. It happens, and we need to keep it in perspective.

Finally, these incidents are a reminder of the need for greater Cultural Intelligence among our citizens, communities, government and institutions. The more we understand the ways that diversity impacts us, and the better we appreciate the benefits of a multicultural nation, the better prepared we will be to take positive actions that can prevent incidents of this type from happening in the first place.

Those of us who are committed to promoting the advantages of a multicultural workforce and nation need to strike the right balance. We should not tolerate inappropriate behavior, but our reactions to it need to be appropriate to the specific incident. In the case of Dunkin’ Brands, it is this simple: an employee made a mistake. That employee, the franchisee, and the company apologized, expressed regret, and handled the situation professionally. That is as it should be.

*Dunkin’ Brands is the home to two of the world’s most recognized franchises:
Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins

Please visit our website: for more information on the Cultural Intelligence Solutions available from MFHA.

Business Before Politics

straight talk blog gerry fernandez

Photo taken at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis

Almost daily, we hear of  public figures getting into trouble for something they said, posted or tweeted that was poorly phrased or the implications of which they simply didn’t fully consider. Donald Trump’s recent comments are an extreme example of what can happen if a leader says something controversial about an issue that involves race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Our business is not political but there are political aspects to our business. Whether you like it or not, employees inadvertently express their political views at their place of work and increasingly, so do customers.

Issues like the Confederate Flag or Immigration Reform are hot topics and people hold strong views on both sides. What may seem like innocent exchanges can easily turn into a shouting match and can lead to resentment, loss of morale, and even violence.

Here are 3 Cultural Intelligence tips to keep in mind as the summer progresses and the political season approaches.
#1. Coach your managers to discourage talk of politics and not to take sides in any debate.  Remind them that everyone has an obligation to stay focused on serving the guests regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political beliefs. Today’s workforce is much more diverse and so too are the political views they hold. Political conversations in the workplace can have adverse effects if we are not sensitive to the diversity of political opinions help by staff and guests.

#2. Be informed about current events and understand the issues ahead of time so that you can anticipate potential conflicts.  Think about the purpose of your email: You want readers to respond in a certain way, so use specific call-to-actions such as visit our website, shop the sale now, or sign up for specials.

#3.  Give your staff the language they need. to defuse a potential conflict with a co-worker, vendor or guest.
Certain words are inflammatory or political in nature. For example, undocumented is preferred vs. illegal; sexual orientation vs. sexual preference; people of color vs. minority; and these are just a few examples. Remind staff not to comment on these issues with guests or with co-workers. Tell them if someone does bring up an inflammatory or controversial topic, to ignore the comment, change the subject, or tell them you don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss this issue at work. If they persist, tell them to report it to the manager on duty and let the manager handle it.

Being Culturally Intelligent about how to communicate with employees and guests is just good business. In today’s multicultural, multi-generational world, managers need to know comments like Donald Trump’s may be offensive to many people. The more we stay focused on serving our diverse guests and leaving politics at home, the better we will be as an industry.

Our Time to Lead

A series of recent articles, research papers, and my visit to the city of Charleston, SC this past weekend, has convinced me that now is the time for our industry to get involved more aggressively to help young people find their place in the world of work.

The restaurant, foodservice and lodging industry relies heavily on young people between the ages of 16 and 24 to staff their operations. A recent study conducted by Measure of America and funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, found that an “astonishing one in seven American adolescents and young adults ages 16 to 24 is neither working nor in school.” That means there are 5.8 million young people who are “disconnected” and isolated from the very people and institutions they need to become productive members of society. One in Seven: Ranking Youth Disconnection in the 25 Largest Metro Areas

The future of our industry and our country depends on the ability of young people to find employment that offers them the opportunity to achieve the American dream. If we aren’t successful, we run the risk of having large populations of disconnected, unemployed and uneducated youth with no hope and too much time on their hands; a recipe for disaster. Increasingly, some of these young people, like the alleged shooter in the Charleston church massacre, go online and end up being radicalized by hate groups such as the KKK and ISIS. ISIS and the Lonely Young American.

Our industry is the number one employer of women and people of color, yet we still struggle to develop them to their full leadership potential. At a time when economic conditions are still uncertain, and our industry is getting ever more competitive, we need to have a pipeline for developing future leaders. We are leaving money on the table by not maximizing the contributions of all our employees, especially immigrants and people of color. We need to take action now by investing the time and resources needed to address the conditions that prevent our companies, and their employees, from reaching their full potential.

I believe our focus should be on engaging leaders from all cultural backgrounds in a serious dialogue on how our industry can address the problem of disconnected youth. We need to work with leaders in federal, state, and local government, as well as civic, charitable, corporate, and non-governmental organizations. We need to unapologetically tell our story and promote the great contributions our industry makes to the lives and careers of people from different cultural backgrounds.

In addition, we need to change the debate away from issues like minimum wage and healthcare and focus our efforts on communicating that our industry is best-positioned to help get these young people employed. We need to tell the public that we teach people how to work on a team, how to run a business and we give them transferable skills; skills that can put them on a career trajectory to a middle class life or better.

There are other challenges facing our country and our industry. The lifetime risk of imprisonment for native born Black males is 68% vs. 24% for Hispanics and 17% for Whites. For young men that do not finish high school they are almost three times as likely to be incarcerated by age 35. This does not bode well for America if large portions of the workforce are uneducated or in prison. To quote the publisher of my local newspaper, The Providence Journal, “This is not about us and them, this is about us!” America and our industry cannot thrive if Blacks and Hispanics are failing at such high rates. “Incarceration and Social Inequality”

The recent shootings in Charleston were unimaginably tragic. However, history has taught us that senseless acts of violence will likely always be with us. While we may never eliminate racism, we cannot afford to do nothing. There is no better place to start than for America to get serious about engaging disconnected youth. We need to leverage technology, scholarly research, and the most effective community groups to develop the right solutions for our industry.

America needs to get serious about engaging disconnected youth. The foodservice and hospitality industry needs to take a leadership position in this discussion. We have the most to gain, in that we would be investing in our own future employees, while helping to build stability in the communities we serve.

Our industry also needs to get serious about addressing racial and ethnic leadership disparities in our businesses. If we don’t, our commitment to diversity and inclusion will be questioned by advocacy groups in the same way as Facebook, Amazon, and Google. “Inequity in Silicon Valley”

As we approach the 4th of July weekend, I call upon the leadership of our industry to get engaged with MFHA to help shape an aggressive agenda for reaching disengaged youth. Businesses need to leverage their innovative capability to help solve the education and employment problems faced by our industry. Companies like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Sodexo and Chipotle have all shown leadership on this issue. It’s time for the rest of the industry to step up and do their part. If we don’t, we could be in for a long hot summer. Email or call me with your thoughts. Let’s make Labor Day this year a symbol of hope and opportunity for America’s disconnected youth. 401.461-6343

An Open Letter to MFHA Members, Supporters and Industry Colleagues

Victims of Dylann Storm Roof who is in custody for the church shootings

Victims of Dylann Storm Roof who is in custody for the church shootings

Dear Members, Supporters and Industry Colleagues,

I invite each of you to join me and the MFHA Board of Directors in extending our condolences and prayers to the people of Charleston, South Carolina. We should especially remember the victim’s families, friends, and members of Emanuel AME church. It is moving to see such faith and forgiveness on display in the community during such a difficult time.

The killings at Emanuel AME are the latest, and by far the worst, in a series of high-profile tragedies that have occurred over a period of nearly two years. It has become disturbingly common to hear of Blacks being killed or otherwise mistreated, whether by hate-filled individuals, groups, or even officers of the law.

I look at these events from the viewpoint of a father, husband, grandfather, business leader, and man of faith. As a Black American, and father of three sons, the racial intolerance and violence being visited on people of color is of great concern to me and my family. Debra and I worry about the safety our sons. We speak with them frequently about the potential for conflict and are relieved and thankful when they return home safely. Our family is strong and we are blessed, but we have had our share of difficulties, many of which were irrefutably related to race.

In my position as MFHA President, I have spent nearly two decades working with companies, trade associations, community organizations, and the media to promote our industry as a great place for people of color to build a business of a career. I have spent thousands of hours, and traveled from coast to coast, advocating for diversity and promoting our industry as a place where people of all cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds to thrive.

I believe that in the wake of tragedies like Charleston people need to take action. The great Irish Statesman, Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

As the leader of our industry’s leading multicultural organization I feel compelled to speak out on this issue. Our industry is the largest employer of minorities outside of the federal government, so I believe that other groups and business leaders should speak out as well. We need to do our part in helping to build a nation that is more tolerant of difference, more compassionate, and more culturally intelligent about the way we engage with each other.

Howard Schultz of Starbucks showed leadership when earlier this year he launched “Race Together” in an effort to get people talking about race. While that initiative fell short of its goal, I applaud Starbucks for making an effort to engage its employees and customers in this important conversation. Acts of racial hatred, discrimination and intolerance are affecting our most valuable resource; our employees!

We’ll never know if anything could have prevented what happened at Emanuel AME. I hope that once the funerals and prayer vigils are over that we will continue to have a dialog about race and culture. I believe that culturally intelligent conversations and culturally intelligent leadership will lead to solutions. Solutions that I believe can bring our community together for the good of all America.

God bless the people of Charleston, the family members of the victims and Emanuel AME Church.


Gerald “Gerry” A. Fernandez
President & Founder

Our Multicultural Moment: A Challenge to Executive Leadership


Some of MFHA’s recent Multicultural Leadership Tribute ads featuring Leaders of Color and Executive Allies.

For nearly twenty years, the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), in partnership with our corporate members and media partners, has led the effort to promote diversity and inclusion in our industry. We recognize that building Culturally Intelligent organizations – those that embrace the multicultural community, market effectively to it, and draw talent from it – is good for the industry and it is good business.

MFHA has made progress in many ways, and we continue to applaud the and innovative programs that some leading, proactive companies have developed. However, as the 2014 State of the Foodservice Industry Diversity Report confirms, our progress on talent recruitment and career development has improved very little in the past twenty years. Even as we have increased awareness and engagement on many fronts, the numbers of multicultural leaders in management ranks and other positions of leadership have improved very little.

Many companies that had aggressive diversity and inclusion programs in place several years ago cut back on those commitments during the recession and have yet to renew them. In addition, research confirms that a lot of companies are content to make minor, half-hearted efforts, but do not put the time and resources behind them to allow them to be really successful. Isn’t it time we got serious and did what is not only needed, but what is indisputably right and in the best interests of our industry?

The old saying that there is “no time like the present” rings true. We can continue to muddle along, give lip service to our industry’s challenges, or we can commit to really make a difference. Each of us has to determine if we are going to be a part of the solution or remain a part of the problem.

This is our “Multicultural Moment”; one that presents an opportunity to renew our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and building Cultural Intelligence.

Here are some specific, clear and unapologetic suggestions we should all embrace to take advantage of this “Multicultural Moment”. Here is our Challenge to Executive Leadership:

  • Get the facts about your own organization and be candid and open about them. If you have progress to make, acknowledge it. If you don’t have a strategy and plan in place, now is the time to put one together. Considering how long we have been aware of the need to promote cultural intelligence, our numbers are very poor when it comes to people of color and women in senior management and on boards. The numbers tell a story that is both clear and sobering. We simply have to do better!
  • Find out why your numbers are so low. Ask the hard questions. Conduct a complete and thorough review of the recruiting, development, and advancement numbers for White males, Women, and People of Color. Don’t hide the individual group numbers. Call out specifically how Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Women, etc. are doing as an individual group.
  • Challenge your leadership team, not just your human resource department. Ask them to come up with legitimate action steps to improve the numbers. Hold them accountable for minority talent development objectives.
  • Identify high potential talent and commit resources to developing them to their full potential. Minority advancement will not accelerate without an increased effort. It is no secret that, at one time, people in power took deliberate and specific steps to deny Blacks and other minorities’ access to basic American rights. It will take deliberate and specific action steps by this generation’s leaders, especially White men and women of good will, to level the playing field for people of color and women. It will not be popular, or easy, but it is the right thing to do and our businesses will benefit from it.
  • Meet with your peers and challenge each other and the industry groups you fund to develop SMART goals to improve the advancement of minorities and women in management.
  • Report your results inside and outside of your organization.
  • Engage ethnic and racial community groups and ask for their help.

If we are going to make meaningful, measurable progress, our executive and other senior leaders, including leaders of color, must do more. There will never be a better time to act. It’s really more about economic equality than just racial, ethnic, or gender equality. In a very real sense, this is our “civil rights moment,” both for our nation and our industry. The stakes are high for our companies, our industry, and our communities. Our future depends on our ability to create culturally responsive workplaces that can develop diverse talent into Culturally Intelligent leaders. The time to act is NOW.


And Then There Were Three

February 27, 2015 Leave a comment

And then there were three
In just six months from September 2014, the foodservice industry went from having six CEO’s that are Black/African-American, to just three. I emphasize three because according to the Census Bureau and the National Restaurant Association respectively, Blacks make up 13.2% of the U.S. population and 11% of the foodservice workforce. These numbers suggest, as do the data in MFHA’s 2014 Diversity Report:  State of the Foodservice Industry , that the industry is not developing Black employees for leadership opportunities commensurate with the percentage of Blacks that make up our workforce.

The departure of Clarence Otis (Darden), Steve Davis (Bob Evans), and most recently, Don Thompson (McDonald’s), illustrates just how quickly the “complexion” of leadership can change regardless of how committed to diversity and inclusion a company may be. If a company does not have a comprehensive plan to attract, develop, and retain multicultural talent, then its leadership will continue to be largely White, and the image of our industry will not change in the eyes of minority groups. How disparate is the representation of people of color in our industry? The following data provides a clear picture:
Restaurant General Managers                      Corporate Office Directors
White 64%                                                           White 87%
Hispanic 23%                                                       Hispanic 7%
Black 6%                                                              Black 2%
Asian 2%                                                              Asian 3%
*Source: 2014 State of the Industry Diversity Report, People Report & MFHA

If our industry is going to compete for top talent, then we have to be serious about developing employees of color. An industry executive told me recently that while he was attending The National Black MBA Conference, students laughed and said that they would never work for a restaurant company. They cited the company’s website and referenced the lack of people of color as one reason for not taking foodservice opportunities seriously.

MFHA’s 2014 Website Cultural Inclusiveness Assessment makes the case that leading brands use their websites to communicate a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion. Websites of the top 100 restaurant brands, as named by Nation’s Restaurant News, were reviewed and each company was issued a letter grade ranging from A-F, based on how well they communicate cultural inclusiveness. Only 9 companies received a grade of B or better. MFHA members scored the best:
Company Website Grade
McDonald’s                  A
Yum! Brands                A

Darden                        B
Denny’s                       B
Golden Corral              B
Cracker Barrel             B

The foodservice industry is the second largest employer of minorities in America, so we do not have a diversity problem. What we do have is a development problem.

Our development challenges will only get better if leadership commits the financial resources to implement multicultural talent development initiatives and take the time to understand the nuances associated with engaging different cultural groups. Budgets reflect priority, so if your company has no budget for culture and inclusion then your company is not serious about it. The replacement of Clarence Otis, Don Thompson and Steve Davis as CEO’s of their companies was not about being Black.African-American. It was likely more about the performance of the company. Yet, performance has one color and that color is green.

I have said many times that diversity is about business. If our industry does not do more to develop our multicultural talent, then the image of our industry will suffer, and so too, will our bottom lines. Then, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.


In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. : Legacy of Hospitality

January 19, 2015 4 comments

1970 bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King by Charles Alston

Legacy of Hospitality

As the world celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., professionals in the restaurant and lodging industries should stop and reflect on the role our industry played in denying Blacks and other minorities access to public accommodations. It wasn’t until 1960 when four Black students from North Carolina A&T University decided to sit at the lunch counter of the local Woolworths that restaurants in the south started to become desegregated. Hotels also routinely denied Blacks full access even as Black entertainers and athletes performed to sold out crowds. Hispanics and Asians faced similar indignities

If you were Black you could not stop and eat whenever you wanted like we can today. You had to pack a lunch or use the Green Book, a directory of Black friendly or Black owned restaurants, gas stations, and hotels. Black churches and businesses filled the gap by providing food and lodging for family and friends when they traveled in the south. Even in parts of the north and mid-west discrimination in restaurants and hotels was common place

I learned about this fact of Black life in the South from my mother in-law, Edith Roberts, who was born and raised in segregated Savannah, Georgia. Once a month, my wife and I would travel from Providence, Rhode Island to Springfield, Massachusetts, to visit her with our three sons. Every time she would make us food for the trip home. I asked her why cook all this food for a two-hour trip home. She said that preparing food for family and friends that were traveling in the South was a necessity. She continued the routine with us until her death. I think for her, giving us food for the road was a ritual of love.

Today, as we remember the leadership of Dr. King and others who helped America work its way through discrimination, let’s serve up an extra measure of hospitality to one another. Whether you work in a restaurant, a hotel or in a corporate office, smile and show kindness to everyone you meet today. We can help improve the lives of people of difference everywhere by using food and hospitality as a bridge to greater cultural understanding one. Break bread with someone new today and celebrate the birthday of a great American.

In honor of Dr. King.