On the eve of his 14th opening, Keith McNally — one the most influential New York restaurateurs of the last century — drops a surprising op-ed in the Times in which he sounds off on critics, the impossible New York rents, and, perhaps most shockingly of all, how restaurant culture has changed in terms of sexual harassment in the workplace. After stating that "restaurants were easier to build and a whole lot more fun" 36 years ago, the Balthazar restaurateur notes that "health and safety laws weren’t as stringent as they are now, and neither was the law protecting employees from sexual harassment." McNally delves into the latter subject:
Sex among the staff has also gone out the window. Well, not entirely. But as an owner, I’m legally bound to pour cold water on the idea the day someone new is hired. Seeing as I met my two wives in restaurants (not simultaneously), I often wonder if I’d met them in today’s climate, would I have been forced to steer clear of them? Had that been the case, they probably would have been far happier women today.
And if in 1975 I’d been discouraged from consorting with the opposite sex, I’d probably have left the restaurant profession for a more promiscuous one. Politics, perhaps. Either way, it’s difficult not to be anything but fully supportive of a system that protects employees from harassment. But, remembering what it was like to be in my 20s, I believe it’s also important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
McNally, who never backs down from a fight with the critics, also has a few choice words about the restaurant assessment cycle:
Reviews are almost always disappointing, even the good ones. But they’re the way of things, and one must accept them. And I do. Usually by praying for the reviewer to be pulverized by a hit-and-run driver who is possibly my cousin. Then I become more philosophical, and realize he doesn’t have to be my cousin.
The restaurateur’s latest project, Augustine, opens tomorrow night in the Beekman Hotel. Check out photos of the space and the opening menu here.