This California restaurant uses a color-coded system to help their staff combat sexual harassment

Homeroom's staff has three code words: yellow, orange and red.

April 19, 2018, 8:51 AM

Chrissel Orcino had a "code red" at one of her tables.

When Orcino, a server at the Oakland, California, restaurant Homeroom, went to pick up the check for her table of three -- two men and one woman -- something alarming happened.

A man was eager to pay for the tab of the entire table, Orcino said and reached into her apron pocket with his credit card.

“I could, like, feel his, like, hand move all the way down to the bottom of the pocket with his card,” Orcino, 28, recalled.

Orcino was in total shock.

“He could’ve just handed me his card or went up to the register and paid for the whole table,” she said. “It was pretty traumatic to have somebody touch me out of nowhere.”

But instead of explaining to her manager the details of what happened, Orcino told him she had a code red, and he knew what to do.

That’s because, at Homeroom, the staff has a system in place to categorize different types of customer behavior, like Orcino’s experience.

The Management Alert Color System, known as MACS because they’re a mac and cheese restaurant, has three tiers: yellow, orange and red.

“Yellow is just where someone gets a creepy vibe. Nothing has happened. An orange is where they’ve said something that’s a little bit borderline -- like it could be sexual harassment, it could not be. Like, ‘Hey I love your shirt.’ Right? It could sort of go either way,” Erin Wade, co-founder and chief executive of Homeroom, explained. “And a red is something that’s overtly sexual, like, ‘Hey, you look super sexy in that.’ Or where someone touches someone else.”

A staff member doesn’t have to explain the experience to their manager. All they have to do is report the color, and there’s an automatic action that the manager must take.

In the case of a code yellow, the server can choose if they want a manager to take over the table, and if they report an orange, the manager will automatically take it over. With a code red, the customer is asked to leave.

New hires are introduced to MACS at their orientation and are empowered to bring up potentially problematic behavior and situations in or around the restaurant with their manager, whether it’s involving customers, vendors or a delivery driver.

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“All they have to do is come up to me and say, ‘I have a code yellow at a table, and I just don’t feel comfortable serving them.’ And I don’t even have to ask them questions about what happened. I just say, ‘ Not a problem. I’m happy to step in and take over that table so you don’t have to deal with it,’” said Kale Irwin, a Homeroom manager.

The anti-harassment system was started a few years ago when the staff felt they were having a hard time communicating to management when an experience with sexual harassment or other problematic behavior was occurring.

Since the introduction of MACS, Wade says, Homeroom has had fewer code reds, because, “It seems to stem harassment at a really early level.”

For Orcino, the system helped her in a moment she was too distressed to explain her own emotions, let alone what happened when that male customer reached into her apron.

“In any other situation, if we didn’t have the system, then I would have to explain the whole thing and go through the whole process, and in a time when we’re really busy and I can’t even process my own emotions,” Orcino said. “This incident with this guest happened so fast, so abruptly, that I was completely in shock.”