As 2017 continues, there will be many questions about the food industry in the upcoming months, and many questions about labor and employment regarding women and minorities specifically. What affect will changes in Federal agencies and programs have on women in the workplace? Will women be able to find jobs in restaurants? Will their job needs be covered? And if they’re able to get hired, will these women still find fellow female employees at their new jobs who will be able (and willing) to back them up?
There’s a false perception among the general public (and in the eyes of some in the industry as well), that not many women work in restaurants — that “traditionally” women just don’t work in the food industry, despite the long association between women and the kitchen.
However, this just isn’t the case. According to the NRA (National Restaurant Association), over 60% of American women have worked in the restaurant industry at some point in their life. That’s huge.
But the importance of women in the industry goes beyond just basic employment.
In the past few years, there’s been a rise in the idea of the female celebrity chef and the female celebrity restaurant owner. For instance: Lisa Vanderpump, television celebrity and co-owner of SUR and nine other restaurants and bars across the world. And she’s designed the interior space for all of them, as well! But Vanderpump is far from an anomaly. She’s in great company when it comes to female restaurant owners.
The NRA states that more than half of the restaurants in the US have women as full owners or co-owners, with women as about 45 percent of restaurant managers. That statistic is actually higher than the 38 percent of female managers in other industries. Women are simply more likely to hold mid to senior leadership roles in the restaurant industry than other industries.
However there’s still a slim majority of men in direct leadership positions overall in the United States. That statistic gets even more lop-sided when it comes to corporate positions in the food industry. While Kat Cole (president of Cinnabon) and Sally Smith (CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings) are paving the way for women to rise to the top, they’re still in the minority of corporate leadership. And that path to success is still perceived to be full of systemic prejudice that pushes back against ambitious women working toward their futures.
Nationwide, roles for women outside of management show mixed results. Female employees account for:
- 52 percent of all restaurant workers,
- 71 percent of servers nationwide,
- 41 percent of fine dining bartenders (although 55 percent of family style restaurant bartenders, at lower earning level),
- But only 19 percent of chef positions.
The disparity between women trusted with front of house duties versus chef or cook positions in the back of house is striking, as is the disparity in responsibility between fine dining and family/casual restaurants.
But even when women take positions in the restaurant industry, who manages them can make a strong difference in their experience and success overall. In restaurants without female leadership, the work culture for female chefs and servers is often described as strained at best, toxic at worst. The call for consistent gender equity in the workforce on all levels is seen as key to ensuring women are given the best chances to succeed.
However, Deborah Boardman-Leferve, owner of M Restaurant in Philadelphia, is confident that things are looking up: “I think the male dominance is changing very fast as each week another female decides to join the workforce as a chef!”
For many female leaders in a restaurant, it becomes about creating the environment you wanted to see when you started out. Little by little, these female chefs, managers, and owners and helping change the industry’s perceptions of women from the inside out.
Boardman-Leferve has seen that happen through their own hiring practices: “It’s been really awesome to see our head Chef Robin come in and be a woman in that leadership role. It’s been a very empowering experience to see that as another woman.”
Another empowering recommendation for women in the restaurant industry? Find your drive. Anju Kapoor, owner of Mayur Cuisine of India in Corona Del Mar, California says, “[The restaurant] is what makes me jump out of bed – not get out of bed, but jump! I’ve got 10 things I need to take care of and this is what keeps me going.”
“I think it all is changing and the key to success for women is to show we are just as capable as men,” says Boardman-Leferve, “and to prove with talent, focus, patience, and respect that we can equally match the top chefs of the world that are male.”
Without a doubt, the numbers are there to support that. The question is, what can restaurateurs do today to ensure women have their shot at food industry success?
More than anything else, the answer there could simply be “money.” Read on to understand the state of financing and small business loans for women today.