Culture around harassment and fair treatment in the restaurant industry and beyond is changing — but it takes effort and action to continue to move toward a post-harassment ideal.
— Kristen Hawley
It’s been a year of ups and downs in the restaurant industry’s #metoo movement as the strength and resilience of survivors is on display alongside the disappointment of troubling accusations and reports of abuse and harassment.
Karen Leibowitz, co-founder and partner at San Francisco-based restaurants The Perennial and Mission Chinese Food, is ushering working kitchens across the country into what she called the “next stage in our culture” and the message is clear: sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
Her medium: a bright, approachable poster (designed by Brooklyn designer Kelli Anderson and partially funded by Cherry Bombe magazine) tailor-made for restaurant kitchens, inspired by the choking posters displayed in New York restaurants.
“At first I was thinking of it in terms of the posters in the back of the house that say your rights to minimum wage or a break,” she said. But those posters, full of text that are the opposite of exciting to read don’t mention a safe work environment when it comes to harassment. “I thought it should. And then I thought we should make it nice-looking so that people actually look at it.”
Volunteers offered to translate the poster into Spanish and Chinese — the two most common languages for kitchen workers in San Francisco — and Leibowitz is hopeful there could be more translations to come. “A lot of the conversation around #metoo has been about finding voice. And it’s important to include voices that are often silenced because they’re not in English. I thought it was very important to make this information available to people who work in kitchens who don’t always make the headlines,” Leibowitz said.
Leibowitz also has a larger message here about the importance of good communication in the workplace. “There’s a certain kind of PSA that we have out in the world that’s for the public — and another kind of notice in the back in private for our workers. I think there’s some value to bringing that PSA orientation to communicating within an organization and strictly to the workers — not just for the broader public.”
Reception was immediate and positive, earning press mentions from the New York Times to the female-targeted website Ref inery29. (Leibowitz was even named one of InStyle magazine’s Badass 50, which “celebrates women who show up, speak up and get things done.”) But perhaps even better is when Leibowitz sees the poster hanging in working kitchens herself.
“I was [in New York City] visiting a bakery called Hot Bread Kitchen, which specifically works to train people with an interest in food but often a lack of access to good jobs. I saw my poster in their back of house. It was really exciting to see it so far from my home and also as part of a larger project of making work a force for good in people’s lives,” she said.
The poster, a true collaboration created through volunteer and below-market-rate work, is available for free download at cherrybombe.com/86-this; prints can be purchased at cost.
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