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Restaurants Serve Up Opportunity for Women

Griselda Barajas’ first work experience was in a Houston restaurant. After immigrating to the United States from Mexico when she was 12 years old, Griselda spent many hours at her self-proclaimed home away from home, Ninfa’s, a legendary Tex-Mex chain where her mother and father waited tables. It’s where she honed the skills that would inspire her to start her own catering business and café at age 21 in Sacramento, creating jobs and opportunities for hundreds of people. Griselda is just one of the restaurateurs who was honored this year at the National Restaurant Association’s annual Public Affairs Conference in Washington.

Women like Griselda have undeniably helped to shape the recovery and economic growth of this nation. Success stories like hers are not uncommon in the restaurant industry, and we are incredibly proud of the leadership role that women play in our industry, making it a field where women succeed more quickly and in larger numbers than most others.

Our industry provides opportunities to women of all ages and at all stages of their career, from high school and college students getting their start to managers and owners. The restaurant industry has more women in management and ownership positions than virtually any other industry. Forty-five percent of managers are women compared to (an average of) 38 percent in other industries. A majority of restaurant businesses are owned or co-owned by women. 

There are scores of women who have grown within the restaurant industry – moving through jobs from high school or college and transitioning from part-time jobs into successful careers. Take, for example, Jackie Trujillo, who started her 50-year career in the restaurant business as a “car hop.” Jackie has spent her entire career with franchise corporation Harman Management, holding virtually every restaurant job possible, and today is the company’s Chairman Emeritus. Along the way, she helped establish the Women’s Foodservice Forum, an organization created in 1988 to help advance and empower women leaders.

Women-owned businesses are thriving in our industry, growing at a faster rate than the overall restaurant industry. Between 1997 and 2007 (the most current figures available), the number of women-owned restaurants jumped 50 percent. During the same 10-year period, the total number of restaurant businesses in the U.S. rose by 36 percent.

The restaurant and foodservice industry is the nation’s second-largest private sector employer—providing jobs to nearly 10 percent of our workforce—and women hold a majority of these jobs. According to our research, 61 percent of adult women say they have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their life, while 37 percent say the first job they ever had was in a restaurant.

Ninety-two percent of women who have worked in a restaurant say that the restaurant industry is a good place to get a first job and learn basic working skills, while 75 percent say they would recommend that a family member or friend get a job in the restaurant industry.

That’s because workers recognize the opportunities for advancement to help them get ahead and the stability to secure fulfilling careers. We are proud of our role in providing good-paying jobs and opportunities for women to advance their careers, while also providing all of our workers with flexible schedules that allow them to balance their family or education priorities with their work.

As a result of these flexible schedules and opportunities for growth, the restaurant industry spawns more than successful careers for women; it also gives many the chance to give back while working at the same time. At Passport Pizza in Michigan, Sue LaTour started a program that turns out 3,000 meals weekly for food pantries, veterans and those in need. Her restaurant company employs 75 people just north of Detroit and has become a force of good. Today, Sue is running out of space and hopes to turn the program, currently run out of her restaurant, into a not-for-profit.

Like Passport Pizza, so many of our restaurants have an important impact on the community, and many of the small business owners are recognized as leaders in their communities. Take restaurateur Lesley Cohn, for example. Lesley co-founded the Garfield High School Foundation and culinary arts program, featuring a $2 million state-of-the-art kitchen, serving line and lecture center. It’s where teenage students that are considered high risk for dropping out of school have an opportunity to learn culinary skills that prepare them for future careers in the restaurant industry, where they can build on classroom experience and become community role models themselves. To date, the program has graduated more than 2,000 students in San Diego.

Griselda Barajas, Jackie Trujillo, Sue LaTour and Lesley Cohn are just four of the millions of women across the country who demonstrate the impact restaurants have made on their local communities. We are proud of our industry – one that gives employees the chances and the skills they need to build successful careers to support themselves, their families and our communities.