Celebrating Women of the Restaurant and Foodservice Industry

Co-authored by HATTIE HILL, President and CEO of the Women's Foodservice Forum

The National Restaurant Association and the Women's Foodservice Forum are celebrating Women's History Month this March by recognizing the tremendous contributions women have made to our strong and vibrant industry. Women have made restaurants a vital part of the fabric of this country, and a leader in the nation's economy.

Women in the restaurant and foodservice industry have played an integral role throughout our country's history. One of our earliest restaurateurs, Christiana Campbell was a tavern-keeper in Williamsburg, Va. She opened a tavern to support herself and her two daughters after her husband died in 1752. From 1755 until the late 1770s -- over 20 years -- she ran what became one of Williamsburg's most successful businesses. The colonies' leaders used her restaurant as a meeting place prior to the American Revolution.

The granddaughter of a freed slave, Edna Lewis opened Café Nicholson on Manhattan's East Side during the 1940s. She became a local legend for her simple, Southern cooking, as well as being a female and African-American chef, a rarity at the time. Lewis, an author of three cookbooks, cooked for celebrities including Marlon Brando, Howard Hughes, Salvador Dali, Eleanor Roosevelt and Truman Capote.

From our country's early years to present day, the restaurant industry provides opportunities and career advancement to women of all backgrounds and at all stages of life. The industry currently employs 14 million people, with jobs and careers in every community and state.

One in three women gets her first job opportunity in a restaurant, and over 60 percent of women have worked in a restaurant. Through these experiences, they have honed skills that stick with them throughout their careers, including personal responsibility, teamwork and accountability. We take great pride knowing our employees value our efforts. In fact, 92 percent of women who have worked in a restaurant said the industry is a good place to get a first job and learn basic working skills.

In the restaurant industry, there are more women in management and ownership positions than any other industry. Forty-five percent of all restaurant managers are women compared to an average of 38 percent in other industries. Today, more than half of all U.S. restaurants are owned or co-owned by women. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of women-owned restaurants jumped by 50 percent, well above the 36 percent increase in the number of overall restaurant businesses.

It's people like Jeanne Cretella and Amber Anthony who help us see the opportunity restaurants provide for women. Jeanne spent her career working in restaurants and now runs a 400-person business in New Jersey -- where the majority of her managers are women. Amber started working in her family's business and now serves on the board of the San Antonio Texas Restaurant Association, helping to support the thousands of women in Texas who are a part of the restaurant industry. These women were helped by their time in restaurants, and now in turn, are helping those who want to also take full advantage of the opportunities they provide.

Today, women are at the helm of some of our largest restaurant companies, including Bloomin' Brands (parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar), Buffalo Wild Wings, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, DineEquity (parent company of Applebee's and IHOP), Panda Express and Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen. We remain committed to increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions and on foodservice company boards.

We are proud to represent an industry that counts women like Christiana Campbell, Edna Lewis, Jeanne Cretella and Amber Anthony, and many others as a part of our rich history and as role models for women and workers everywhere.