Is Tipping Contributing to Gender Inequity in Restaurants?

Gender inequity in restaurant management has been in the news again recently. While there has been a lot of hand wringing and finger pointing, there has been much less discussion about what, if anything, we should do about it.

It is relatively clear that restaurant management is dominated by men (we have recent survey data that confirms this). While Tim Hortons was maligned for the issue at the board level, my inclination is that quick service restaurants (QSR) are not as bad as others are which then begs the question what the difference is.

We’ve all heard about how the killer hours, weekends and holidays make it hard to have a relationship, let alone a family. This is true and is likely a factor. Managing regular shifts and more structure may be something that could help here. We are seeing many restaurants make progress here.

We’ve also often heard about the atmosphere in male dominated kitchens that make it difficult for women to thrive and advance. This is also true in many (but not all) kitchens and is also likely a factor.

Women, however, dominate the front of house jobs. Is there gender bias in promoting from the front of house to management? There are no doubt some instances of this but there may also be another factor – which may explain the difference between QSR and full service restaurants.

I recently read an article in the HBR that explored why women in the 30’s were leaving companies. The perception is that women leave for flexibility and family reasons. This study suggests that simply isn’t the case. The most common answer for women was that they left because they could make more money elsewhere. While family was on the list, it was lower. Women were much more likely to provide this answer (left for more money) than men. In my tipping research with Bruce McAdams (coming out soon in the Journal of Foodservice Business Research) we heard from many managers that tipping made it difficult to transition high potential employees into management positions. Tipping makes serving very lucrative and individuals regardless of gender often take a pay cut when moving to management positions. The study in HBR may suggest that women are less likely to make that transition and more likely to leave if they attempt it. It’s worth noting that both men and women say they leave jobs where they feel the pay is not commensurate with the effort they have to put it. That’s likely also a factor in restaurants.

To make progress we need to understand what the problem is. Gender bias is a factor but might not be the only one. The connection between tipping and dysfunction in the restaurant operations merits attention.

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