Women outside the kitchen: The case of the invisible restaurateur

Anna Pavoni, Ormeggio at The Spit

Female chefs are starting to step into the spotlight, but the vast number of women in the hospitality sector doesn’t get the recognition and appreciation they deserve. It’s why, notes Jill Dupleix, female restaurateurs are getting militant and doing it for themselves.

They are administrators, accountants, front of house, human resources managers, marketing directors, events organisers and social media co-ordinators. They are, of necessity, self-taught experts on immigration laws, staff contracts, compliance, health and safety, and property management. They’ll wait tables, run the pass, clean down the restaurant and lock up when necessary. They are also, very often, wives and girlfriends and mothers.

Let’s hear it for the female restaurateurs of the country. And now, let’s hear from them as well. “There is a woman behind nearly every restaurant that’s out there,” says Marilyn Annecchini of Pilu at Freshwater on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “Whether it’s your local Chinese or a neighbourhood pub.”

Annecchini and fellow restaurateur Anna Pavoni of Ormeggio at The Spit met at various dinners and functions for CIRA, the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia, during the noughties.

“We’d all end up sitting together at the chefs’ wives table at the back, talking about work,” recalls Pavoni. “I was so excited to be with so many women who knew so much about the industry.”

It was this network – and the informal lunch club that developed from it – that sustained the two restaurateurs over the next few years as their restaurants both grew to win the coveted two chef hat status in the Good Food Guide.

Then along came WOHO (Women In Hospitality), the not-for-profit association founded by Julia Campbell in 2017, with the remit to foster development of women in all facets of the industry. Pavoni is on the board, Annecchini is a member. But still, they dreamed of doing something more focused on running a restaurant business.

“There’s a lot of focus on chefs out there, but there is so much to running a restaurant business, that can at times be confronting and confusing,” says Pavoni.

So in 2017, they declared W.A.R. (a council devoted to Women And Restaurants), running their first convention for women restaurateurs in June 2018, and attracting industry greats such as Danielle Gjestland of Noosa’s Wasabi and Rebecca Lines of Barangaroo’s Banksii. The buffet of topics ranged from capturing the corporate dining market (‘they’re looking for something unique and interactive, not just lunch’); to staff culture (‘mental health has become an issue’); to how to create content for Instagram Stories.

While they hope to keep the council a tight-knit group, the pair are already planning a second, expert-focused W.A.R. effort.
“We’re expected to know everything, even as technology changes our world,” says Pavoni. “Sharing our procedures and processes helps us all. Because there are so many bloody hats to wear, and you just have to wear them all.”

For details on Women And Restaurants, contact anna@ormeggio.com.au. For details about WOHO, visit womeninhospitality.org.