Chris DiMattia

Chris 'Boston' Dimattia, owner of the Recovery Room Tavern, urged restaurant owners at Tuesday's Greater Charleston Restaurant Association meeting to sign up for People Against Rape's workplace training.

With the restaurant industry now facing so many serious issues, it's incumbent upon restaurant owners to recognize and address them before problems spin out of control, a series of speakers on Tuesday afternoon told a joint meeting of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association and Charleston Hospitality Association.

For example, restaurant owners dealing with the ongoing staffing crisis should take care not to create conditions in which sexual misconduct can flourish, a human resources consultant warned. 

“Your contract labor can cause as much trouble as anyone else,” Sharon Sellers, president of SLS Consulting, said in a speed version of her standard two-hour presentation on workplace harassment. “Don’t just bring in a dishwasher for the night without training him first.”

Sellers also suggested that employers’ awareness of discrimination law, which has received increased attention in the food-and-beverage sector since sexual misconduct allegations were leveled against celebrity chefs and restaurateurs, could ultimately help with employee retention.

“We want employees who want to come to work,” she said, outlining ways for restaurant owners to promote respect and dignity.

Other speakers on Tuesday’s agenda included Shelby Wade, the prevention and education coordinator for People Against Rape, and Mickey Bakst of Charleston Grill, who spoke about the support services offered by Ben’s Friends.

“Over the last three weeks, I have gotten 18 phone calls from your employees,” Bakst told the group of about 75 association members.

Like Sellers, Bakst briefly made the case that it’s in restaurateurs’ self-interest to monitor workers’ well-being. “If you want to be selfish, a drunk, hungover employee does nothing for you,” he said. But having spent every day of the last week in the hospital room of a local food-and-beverage professional who nearly drank himself to death, Bakst quickly returned to his main point.

“They are unconditionally dying. There is no doubt about it,” he said. “I am sick and tired of watching our employees die.”

Greater Charleston Restaurant Association President John Keener, who first presided over the organization in the 1990s, admitted that such a frank discussion of substance abuse, human trafficking and sexual assault probably wouldn’t have been scheduled a few years ago. During Keener’s first term, most agendas were devoted to event planning and freewheeling business chatter.

“We’ve done festivals, but things change,” he said. “It’s not like it was in the 1990s. There is a hunger for this.”

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

Food editor and chief critic

Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.