imageupload1619711317760 960x0

This piece was published on April 29th for Forbes and Forbes Women. The piece can be found on their site here. It features quotes from WBC CEO Edie Fraser and COO Gwen Young along with highlighting WBC’s partnership with Grubhub’s RestaurantHER campaign.

The pandemic was a real nightmare for women in the restaurant industry—literally.

“I dreamed that my two children had perished, buried alive in the dirt…,” recalls Gabrielle Hamilton. The owner of Prune restaurant in New York City shared her dream, which paralleled the tragic shuttering of her restaurant and the devastating layoff of her 30 employees, in a New York Times piece last April. “I stopped swimming so hard against the current and let it carry me out,” Hamilton remembered, as she shut the doors on her life’s dream. Prune remains closed today.

Sadly, Gabrielle is not alone. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week shows a quarter of women feel their family’s financial situation is worse than before the pandemic. And the restaurant space is one area in which women were particularly hard hit.

While the majority of restaurant workers (53%) are female, fewer than 7% are head chefs and those that are chefs earn 28% less than their male counterparts. In addition, only one-third of U.S. restaurants are majority-owned by women. Even before the pandemic, female restaurant workers had a tough time finding a seat at the table.

Women clearly have the “chops” to be leaders in the restaurant industry, but they just aren’t enjoying the same opportunities or finding the same success as men. They are often saddled with many of the same obstacles—workplace discrimination, lack of sponsorship, limited access to capital, less media coverage and childcare obligations—that women in other industries face.

Throw in a global pandemic and the story becomes even more dire. But help is on the way, in a number of significant ways.

First, the Biden administration recently signed into law the American Rescue Plan that includes a whopping $28.6 billion for grants to restaurants negatively impacted by Covid. Sadly, this represents only about a tenth of what was lost by the industry but it’s a start.

Second, Grubhub, the online and mobile food delivery platform, has amped up its RestaurantHER initiative. The program uses its technology platform to drive change and respond to issues facing women in the restaurant industry.

RestaurantHER has done some amazing things for women, including:

·     Partnering with Women Chefs &teurs to provide grants, tools, resources and apprenticeships to advance the careers of female chefs and culinary leaders

·     Creating an interactive RestaurantHER map to help diners find women-led restaurants

·     Offering a “Donate the Change” program on Grubhub, with proceeds going to women’s initiatives

·     Hosting Sound Bites, a virtual concert that featured prominent female artists and raised money for World Central Kitchen.

“Women-owned restaurants are hurting, and we encourage people to think about them as one of the most vulnerable business areas,” says Gwen Young. The COO of Women Business Collaborative (WBC) recently partnered with RestaurantHER to raise awareness for women-led restaurants and to encourage Americans to support them. Edie Fraser, CEO of WBC is passionate about the partnership as she feels women-owned businesses are the “bedrock of community development.”

“The pandemic was like fighting for your child every day,” explains Ris Lacoste. The chef and owner of RIS in Washington, D.C. feels that women chefs and owners are particularly vulnerable during tough times because “they feel like they should be able to do it all.” Having a lifeline like RestaurantHER was valuable as the organization helped her and other local restaurants “stay strong together.”

And it seems that RestaurantHER has inspired similar groups to pop up throughout the country. LET’S TALK, for example, is a movement of 350 women restauranteurs in 12 U.S. cities who come together to solve problems and build economic power.

Women’s Food Fest is another community formed to support local female business owners in the D.C. area. The group acts as a support group and leverages the collective talents of its members, recently pivoting to create an online marketplace when their restaurants were closed or capacity limited.

Finally, women restaurateurs may see help in the form of technology. Significant changes in the way we interacted with restaurants during the pandemic gave rise to new delivery services, new ways to integrate with delivery apps and access to new markets, according to Johanna Mendelson Forman. The author, professor and food expert believes that technology is the key to adapting to the new normal. “Women who succeed will have to be creative not only in the kitchen, but also in the tech space.”

They may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Like in other industries, however, there may be a lag until they see true equality. Lacoste might just have the perfect recipe for success for female restauranteurs—add a dash more testosterone. “A bit more confidence wouldn’t hurt any of us.”

Jane Hanson