Women make up 71 percent of servers, but only account for 45 percent of management. While that number is climbing, it is still a stark reality the restaurant industry must face – women are underrepresented in restaurant leadership.
On the other hand, between 2011 and 2017, female franchise ownership jumped up 83 percent. While the restaurant industry struggles to adapt to the changing landscape, in terms of equality, franchising is emerging as an excellent avenue for women-owned restaurant businesses.
Through my experiences in the food industry, one in which I've always wanted to become an entrepreneur, I wore many different hats and earned my education through experience. After opening my own coffee shop in Los Angeles, I went on to open seven more concepts in the metro area, including Debbie's Bistro, which was recognized as one of the Top 10 Best Restaurants by Los Angeles Magazine.
The beginning of Rachel's Kitchen
My husband and I lived in both Los Angeles and Vegas for a couple of years when my daughter Rachel was born, and we decided to make the final move when I was pregnant with my son. When we moved, I launched Rachel's Kitchen (named after my daughter) in 2006. In the 12 years since launching, we have taken that one location and built a total of eight cafes in the Las Vegas Valley, including a coveted location in the McCarran International Airport.
Now franchising, we plan to expand throughout the Las Vegas Valley and into regional markets, such as Reno, Salt Lake City and Phoenix. I see no reason why Rachel's Kitchen can't go international. I'm ambitious, which you need to be in a competitive industry like restaurant ownership.
Being in the new culinary capital of the United States, Rachel's Kitchen is in a fairly saturated market. When launching in a new market or challenging competitors in a developed market, it is important to know what makes your concept unique and build upon that. Carry that uniqueness into every location you open.
At Rachel's Kitchen, we do not serve outrageous food or international delicacies, which are popping up across the Strip. Instead, we've worked to differentiate ourselves and redefine what it means to be a local restaurant. We try to locally source ingredients when we can, and we are an active community partner through our charity program.
How women can become restaurant leaders
Similarly, women must differentiate themselves as leaders to succeed in this industry and break down the glass ceiling. When you stop yearning for respect, you have the time to earn it. I do this by focusing on my managers, employees and customers with a hands-on management style.
Yet at the same time, I encourage my team to act as leaders themselves, taking on their own sense of responsibilities that often mimic ownership – still with my support.
I recommend that all women entrepreneurs, especially those in the restaurant industry, operate in a similar way. There is no use trying to manage all aspects of the business. Train your team, delegate and focus on what you are good at. That will help you become a better leader.
I think it's also worth noting the natural abilities women possess that make them suited for restaurant management. Generally speaking, women are naturally organized and have a strong attention to detail. This helps them oversee and supervise a restaurant's operations. On the same note, women are typically approachable, excellent communicators and have impressive networking skills – all vital qualities for emerging leaders.
While some of these skills are seen as "soft skills," it is important for women to engage these skills and further develop them while learning new skills in order to successfully challenge industry norms.
How to break the restaurant industry's glass ceiling
I highly recommend to women looking to break the glass ceiling in their industry to understand your intentions and how to pursue them. However, don't be too proud to ask for advice or support from like-minded individuals.
Find mentors and inspirations in your industry and outside of it. For example, I admire Nancy Silverton from La Brea Bakery. She popularized sourdough in the United States, and she is highly regarded in the restaurant industry and has won numerous awards, including a James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef Award. She is an inspiration to many women in the restaurant industry and entrepreneurship as a whole.
The future of the restaurant industry
The restaurant industry is starting to change. We are starting to see more women in management roles, and more women in ownership roles. This change has been led by women who are determined despite the challenges, who work despite the statistics against them, and who refuse to give up when it gets tough.
However, the industry still has a long way to go. It needs to continue offering women support, mentorship and opportunities to grow as leaders. I have no doubt we will achieve just that.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.