Wanted: More female leaders in the industry

By Lyn Devorkin, Meatheads president

Growing up in an Italian-American home, food was always the center of my family's universe. So, it was only fitting that I've made food the center of my universe for the last 20-plus years.

I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and to pay for my tuition, I worked in the restaurant industry. The hours were flexible, pay was great, and it gave me the option to socialize while working full time. It was during my college years that I fell in love with the culinary and service aspect of the industry.

My career path from restaurant server to president of Meatheads has given me the chance to meet people from all walks of life and from all over the world. Although different, everyone shares the same passion - eating!

Lyn Devorkin

But where are all the women?

Although according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of women-owned restaurants increased by 50 percent from 1997-2007, I'm still seeing them severely outnumbered by men. My goal is to encourage more women to lead this fast-paced and rewarding industry. Our industry is populated with female hourly employees, but I am starting to see more women join the industry because they see the opportunity of career progression.

At Meatheads, we have a plan for every employee who wants to move into management, and we have successfully promoted many women. I'm a mentor and coach for many devotees of the industry because I know that I must give back to ensure that we continue to build a strong and lasting foodservice community. I'm an active member of the national hospitality group, Women in Foodservice Forum (WFF). The Forum has 3,000 members, and we devote our time, effort, education and mentoring to promote women in the foodservice industry. We touch the lives of many women who need and want support.

Another way that businesses can encourage more women to get involved in foodservice is to be involved in the community. Many businesses claim to be "in the neighborhood"—but we really are! We post high school sports scores, host fundraisers, assist customers with special requests and support reading for our local youth. For women interested in foodservice, I think incorporating a philanthropy element is crucial to building customer relationships and developing community roots.

My advice

There are so many key learnings, but here are a few I'd like to pass along to women considering the foodservice industry:

  • The customer is not always right, but we are not in the business of being right – we're in the business of serving guests.
  • Honor the "platinum" rule of communication with people: Treat others the way THEY want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated.
  • Social media has made the single biggest impact on immediate feedback in the service industry. To flourish, you really need to be on your game.
  • Education, travel, celebrity chefs and TV shows have made our industry sexier than it has ever been.

The fast casual restaurant industry has taught me how to be a profitable business person. Margins can be tight, and controlling those expenses and marketing the revenues have made me successful. I think there are still tremendous opportunities for women in the food service industry and hope more female leaders and other mentoring groups will continue to reach out to women and encourage them to join us.

Wanna hear more? Devorkin will be attending this year's Fast Casual Executive Summit. Ask her about the business or how to be involved in the Women in Foodservice Forum.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Kathy Doering
    48162126
    This is so fantastic! As one of your vendors we have very much enjoyed watching your growth and success. I may have to use this article in my next newsletter.
    BTW- I also grew up in an American Italian family and agree with your sentiments 100%. So happy to hear more women leaders are emerging in the industry.
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