Be Advised: Lewd Phone Calls Targeting the Restaurant Industry

T&M, working with Fox Rothschild LLP, has uncovered a harassing phone call scam targeting New York City restaurants.

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Typically the caller purports to be a well-known restaurant owner, general manager or executive
chef, and calls the restaurant under the guise of wanting to confirm a reservation, make a reservation
for a “friend” or similar reason. As the host (typically female) is speaking to the caller, the caller begins making inappropriate comments such as: "What are you wearing now? Describe your body… Will you and your friends be there when I come with my friends?" In some instances, the caller has offered the employee money in exchange for taking his guests out for the evening. These calls are not only inappropriate, but also cause discomfort and in some cases even fear.

The host may perceive the caller to be authentic and believe that reporting this harassment may cost her a job. She often will stay silent, endure the harassment and opt not to report it. Alternatively, some have spoken up and have been adamant that they know the caller was a particular chef or
manager, which has led to false allegations being made against an innocent third party.

These callers frequently hunt out and target inexperienced employees, hoping that they can more easily be tricked into giving up information about guests or employees or fall prey to a more serious scam that could result in financial loss or reputational damage for the restaurant and its ownership. Typically, the callers have gained control of the situation by prompting the unsuspecting and often young employee to “guess” who the caller is — often implying that it is someone from “corporate.”
Playing along and usually embarrassed that they don’t recognize the voice of a boss, the host discloses the name of an executive and believes that is the person on the phone.

How can you protect your restaurant and your employees? One of the best ways to combat the risks posed by these incidents is to train your staff on phone etiquette and how to handle suggestive or inappropriate callers. Establish a policy on documenting and reporting disturbing calls. Instruct your employees not to provide confidential information, such as the details of guest reservations or the names of other employees or managers, over the phone and to always report suspicious calls to a supervisor, noting the caller’s alleged name, phone number (if available), details of the conversation and the time and date of the call. If these calls persist or if any members of your staff feel unsafe, consider reporting these incidents to the police and/or hiring an investigative firm to help by tracing the phone call, identifying the caller and performing investigative services that will assess the seriousness of the threat posed.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about protecting your restaurant’s reputation
and employees, please do not hesitate to contact Lauren Mack, Managing Director of Investigations at T&M Protection Resources, LLC or Carolyn D. Richmond, the chair of Fox Rothschild's Hospitality Practice Group.