Keene’s Machina Kitchen and Art Bar co-owner Danya Landis spoke to a Victim Rights Law Center panel on Thursday about being a socially responsible employer and putting a stop to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Landis said when she became involved in co-founding Machina, there was discussion among the six co-owners about creating a place where employees are safe.
“How do we make sure we have the culture that we want,” Landis said.
The Victim Rights Law Center panel included Elle Simone, who appears on “America’s Test Kitchen,” and Boston restaurateur Tiffani Faison, who appears on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Sexual harassment has long been part of the food industry culture, Simone said.
“There’s lots of sexual harassment, and lots of workplace harassment,” Simone said.
Faison, like Simone, has been working in the restaurant industry for much of her life, and said it’s only been with the advent of the Me Too movement that there have been significant changes.
“It was just so prevalent and rampant for so long,” Faison said.
Too often, the targets of the harassment are women and minorities who do not feel comfortable coming forward, whether the harassment is coming from a customer or from another restaurant employee.
“When you’re under-represented in an industry, the last thing you want to do is rock the boat,” Simone said.
Machina starts with the hiring process, by looking for people who are kind and empathetic, Landis said. From there, the restaurant works to make sure all employees feel valued. The restaurant also uses a color-coded system for employees to alert management if a customer is crossing a line.
With a yellow or orange alert, the manager gets involved and takes over service for the table. If the staff members uses a red alert, it means the customer has said something abusive or inappropriately touched the staff member. That customer is then asked to leave.
“It removes the employees from the situation immediately,” Machina said.
Faison said restaurants need to protect employees as Machina does.
“It’s important that leaders in restaurants have a mindset to protect the team,” Faison said.
Machina has been recognized for its socially responsible efforts, winning the Best & Brightest Companies to work for in the Nation last year.
The Best and Brightest award is given to businesses that display a commitment to excellence in operations and employee enrichment that leads to increased productivity and financial performance.
Landis said Machina is working to become a Certified B Corporation, a business that is legally required to consider the impact of its decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
The Victim Rights Law Center is a Boston-based nonprofit that provides free legal assistance for sexual assault survivors with legal needs related to the violence.