Investigating Maternity Leave in the Restaurant Industry

In this Eater article, writer Amanda Kludt investigates the that role maternity leave, or the lack thereof, plays in keeping women from joining and staying in the restaurant business. Of course, the lack of maternity leave is a universal struggle for women and this doesn’t just apply to the restaurant industry, but Kludt makes a pretty compelling case for the jobs of the restaurant business—maitre d’, manager, sommelier, line cook, chef—being the worst for working mothers.

Discrimination in hiring, discrimination in promotion, aggressive work environments and long hours have all been offered as possible reasons why there aren’t more female chefs in America’s top kitchens. But Amanda thinks there are fewer women in those kitchens because of unfriendly policies, both written and unwritten, toward women who have or will have children.

In the United States, businesses are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to full-time employees who have worked there for over a year. Businesses are not required to offer their employees any paid parental leave. Slowly, and I mean very slowly, businesses in other industries are starting to offer paid family leave benefits for their employees. With a few exceptions, this is not happening in the restaurant business. Amanda says this is, “Thanks in large part to the particular financial structure of restaurants, which even at scale tend to operate with low margins, even compared to other small businesses.” Only four percent of food service workers get any sort of paid family leave.

Getting back into the industry after having a child is incredibly hard, because top restaurants don’t have a lot of flexibility when it comes to scheduling. Amanda says that women are forced to adapt and transition into other roles. She says, “Some choose restaurant pastry departments, bakeries, or cafes where the hours are better; others opt to work in the kitchens at grocers, catering companies, even airports.”

So Amanda wants to know why we “Continue to scratch our heads over why more women aren't running our nation's top kitchens.”

Bonus info: According to The New York Times, 80 percent of Americans favor requiring employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members.