How women are thriving in the hospitality industry

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Hospitality has long been seen as a male-dominated industry, with many head chefs, mixologists and front of house staff being men, not even mentioning behind the scenes. This is especially visible in chefs, with successful people such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall running restaurant chains, commanding centre stage on television series and promoting their cookbooks. The flip side is that women who are equally talented chefs have been dubbed as ‘home cooks’ and while every household in the UK may have a battered copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Class, or bow down to Mary Berry- Queen of Cakes, they just don’t seem to have the cachet.

Though this may have been the theme for the last few years, times are changing with the number of female chefs growing by over 34% in the last year in the UK and with 42% of senior restaurant and catering staff being made up of women. However with less than one in four chefs in the UK being female, we still have a long way to go.

Women within every strata of the hospitality industry have spoken out about their experiences and making a change, so how are we moving forward?

The industry

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Tracey Matthews is the Managing Director of the Gaucho Restaurants, one of the most successful incarnations of Argentinian cuisine. Tracey knows that change is in motion though not at the pace that is needed:

“The hospitality industry is changing, but not fast enough. You can’t be Mother Earth to do this job. Women often feel guilty but we don’t have to be superhuman, it’s ok to ask for flexible working. Women need to speak up rather than leave, and it’s the same for men.”

In an attempt to continue to push forwards, Aster is hosting a Nordic Tea on International Women’s Day. Three of London’s top female chefs will be talking about being a woman in a high-pressure industry. This has sparked Chef Sally Clarke to speak out to The Standard about her own experience ahead of the event that she will be attending:

“Having women in the professional kitchen then was strange and we were seen as a bit of a joke. In the early eighties, I heard through the grapevine some hideous behaviour and horrific accounts of how women were treated.”

Ruth Rogers began The River Café 30 years ago with business partner Rose Gray. With half the staff being women and seasonal and locally sourced food, Ruth was at the forefront of women in hospitality. With one Michelin star, The River Café has long been on the foodie map and when a Guardian journalist asked about their hiring policy, Ruth was adamant:

“That’s not our goal,” she says. “Our goal is 100%. We don’t have a kind of like: ‘Now we’re 50% we’re happy.’ Never. No, we’d never say 50% is OK, ’cos it’s not. What we’re saying is that if we’re under 50% it just doesn’t work as well.”

Thankfully we have come a long way since the eighties and Frances Dore, Chief Marketing Officer of Caprice Holdings and The Ivy Collection talks about hiring on merit:

“We recruit based on skill and will and work ethos. Most of the board is female and we try to recruit female general managers. Culture is very important, ‘bitchiness’ is not permitted and we promote whether you have children or not.”

Rosie Paterson is a celebrated mixologist in The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh and feels that though some customer’s attitudes can be problematic, the tide is turning:

“I think with customers, a selection of people wish to speak to the bartender and overlook you when you are talking about whisky, beer etc, but this is a small handful. I teach rum and tequila masterclasses where the majority of people who book are groups of guys and are surprised how much I know. I am lucky enough to not have experienced anything that has really put me down, I just smile it off because I am proud of where I am in life!”

Male advocates

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Though there are many more male head chefs, some of them have been enormous advocates for their female counterparts. Having a mentoring partnership has been successful out of the kitchen and women have spoken out about the men who helped them on their way.

Rebecca Mascarenhas is a restauranteur known for Sonny’s Kitchen along with Kitchen W8 and Sam’s Brasserie and has spoken out about a male boss who trusted her with a lot of responsibility early on in her career:

“I worked 8x as hard as any man to prove I wasn’t an idiot.”

Meanwhile, Sandia Chang, a restaurateur and sommelier, spoke about personal support and those who have allowed her to achieve her goals:

“I surrounded myself with successful people. My biggest support and mentor has always been my husband.”

Rosie Paterson talks about those who inspired her in her own career: “I began waitressing at the Voodoo Rooms almost 7 years ago. Watching people like Iain Mcpherson (Panda and Sons and Hoot the Redeemer owner) and other amazing bartenders work behind the bar with enthusiasm and passion, creating cocktails and winning competitions made me want to learn more about mixology and spirits. I have always enjoyed being creative, studying Art at college and loved finding a new way to express this. I also got to meet the lovely Camille Ralph Vedal of St. Germain who has inspired me in many ways to be myself and encouraged me through my journey!”

Having it all

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One element of the hospitality industry that affects everyone is unsociable hours. The nature of the beast means late nights, early starts and working weekends are the norms, and many people struggle to find a balance between work and home life. This can be particularly difficult for women with families due to the traditional hands on role at home.

Frances Dore, the Chief Marketing Officer, feels that changing the industry’s attitude will help all workers:

“You need to be offering good staff benefits and good food for the team. Boring or difficult tasks should be shared’. It’s important that people can have the opportunity to move between different roles and ‘having a development plan for those who want it’ is important.”

Though women in top roles are few and far between, they are definitely on the increase. Women are excelling in every aspect of the hospitality industry and through grit, determination and flair, they are proving themselves every bit as capable as their male counterparts. In future, we hope to see more Michelin stars, more female head chefs and continuing success for women in this field.