Women-owned restaurants are on the rise. Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, is just one example of how successful women can become in this industry. And according to Sweeney, no other American industry is as diverse as the restaurant business. With 33% of restaurants in the capable hands of female leadership, it’s time to acknowledge and celebrate the progress of women in foodservice.
Power in Numbers
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, women-owned businesses match sector growth in three industries: transportation, construction, and food services. As of October 2015, 49.9% of students enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America were women. More and more women are seeking high-level positions in every field, and the restaurant industry is reaping the benefits of that trend.
According to the NRA, the number of women-owned restaurants grew by 40% from 2007-2012 – well above the 12% increase in all restaurant businesses. Female chefs and entrepreneurs are finding more and more ways to break through what one journalist calls “the lass ceiling”, winning awards and opening acclaimed new projects across the country.
Mind the Gap
Despite record growth, women-owned restaurants still have a lot of catching up to do. In just 2015, research showed that these businesses with female leadership made about 25 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. And this gap isn’t unique to the American restaurant industry. One article reports that only 18.5% of professional chefs in the UK last year were female. That’s just 46,000 women.
We can account for this gap in a few ways. Anne Tobias, head chef at Rochelle Canteen, says public perception plays a role: “Occasionally [guests] will thank my sous chef as they just assume he’s the head chef. It’s disappointing,”
Others, like Nancy Longo, chef and owner of Pierpoint Restaurant, say it can be tough to maintain a work-life balance in a professional kitchen. As she told the Baltimore Sun, “It’s like going through a war. If you go in your tank and you’re going through all these things and losing your weekends, losing your friends, losing your stuff, and that tank didn’t hit any landmines and it comes through on the other end, then you were victorious in your little war, you went on. And if all those things didn’t deter you from working in this business, then you’re intended to be here.”
Although male chefs see the same challenges, there is far less social pressure for them to spend every evening at home with family. Chef Cindy Wolf, of the Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group, says she’s lost nearly all of her female pastry chefs when they decided to start families.
It’s an exciting time to be in the restaurant industry. Whether you’re investing in new technology, dreaming up a new menu, or hiring new people, there’s always room to grow. One way we can all grow together is by supporting the women who choose this incredibly difficult and rewarding career path. Luckily, there are countless ways you can do just that, and boost your bottom line in the process.
Hire enough servers so the moms on your team can take days off when their kids get sick, and those very moms will become your most loyal employees, saving you countless training costs in the future. Implement a mentorship program for girls at a local school, and you’ll foster a dedicated group of servers and chefs who already understand the inner workings of your restaurant. Partner with women vendors and woman-owned restaurants, and you’ll build a strong community where guests feel at home, no matter who’s running the kitchen.
Diversity is on the rise in the restaurant industry, and women are forging ahead as the number of women-owned businesses this sector continues to grow. While there is still a disparity between the respect and revenue these restaurants command – compared to restaurants led by men – the upward trend of women owners and operators is an important development in our field.