Ladies of Restaurants
OPINION

Words: Natalia Ribbe   Photography by Carey Macarthur

Ladies of Restaurants

with Natalia Ribbe, Co-founder

 

L.O.R feels like a movement that's been a long time coming. Following their success in London, they recently launched in Manchester.

 

How did Ladies of Restaurants come about?
 
 A few years ago, my friend Grace Welch thought it would be a great idea to get a bunch of us hospitality ladies together for a sort of commiserating happy hour down the pub. Grace and I quickly realised this was something more than just swapping stories of unruly guests over bad prosecco — we needed to create a dialogue and work on solutions to some of the grievances of our fellow matriarchs. So, we established a forum that would meet once a month at the Royal Oak on Columbia Road, only to sometimes be sat by ourselves wondering if anyone would show up. Slowly but surely they did, and over the course of a year we built up a following, hosting dinners discussing appearance (Does wearing lipstick make me look serious or sexy? How uniforms can either emasculate or over feminise women) and career progression (How do I move off the floor/out of the kitchen – when is it time? What if I want to have a baby?) And from this Ladies of Restaurants was born.
 
And the name?
 
 ‘Lady’; a polite and formal way to refer to a woman (Oxford Dictionary). I know this can sound a little patronising, but we chose the name ‘Ladies of Restaurants’, because of its playful nod to “ladies who lunch” — the opposite of the lifestyle of a woman who works in restaurants. Even as a PR wining and dining a journalist, that’s work — not leisurely necking Sancerre at Scott’s with the galdem.
 
What does Ladies of Restaurants do?
 
Well just as you might suspect, we braid each other’s hair and dream of a world in which there is peace between front of house and back of house and people think PRs are doing their job well. Just kidding — although wouldn’t that be great? We have created an unofficial club for women who work in the food and drink world, perhaps where they can look for mentorship, but also have a bit of banter and a glass of wine. For myself and my co-founder (Libby Andrews, Head of Marketing for Pho) the cause stems from our own lack of female mentors in the industry, and the need to further our education in an approachable, fun and forgiving way. We are not here to man bash or create some kind of ‘Girls Hate Boys’ club. We want to help balance the sexes in the industry by cheerleading the ladies, NOT bringing down the men.
 
Please tell us about your events?
 
At present we host a sort of networking event called ‘In Conversation’, with a panel of women across different sectors of the industry. Previous panellists have included Chantelle Nicholson (Tredwells), Frances Cotrell-Duffield (Tonic Communications), Anna Higham (Lyle’s) and Sofia Franc (Salt Consultancy, formerly Petersham Nurseries and Spring).
 
We’ve covered topics such as guilt, mean girls in the workplace, impostor syndrome, maternity crises and sexual harassment. Across the board, it seems that every woman who has attended has either been sexually harassed or witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace, and is unsure how to handle it. We’ve also heard from an overwhelming number of women who claim they feel guilty about just about everything in their day-to-day life. In fact, when we told ladies we were hosting a talk around guilt, the reaction was “Oh god! What do I not feel guilty about?” There are also cases where women felt or feel unworthy of their success, as if they have not achieved it, know nothing and are not sure how they got to where they are. They feel like an actress playing a part, not the real McCoy.
 
Lastly the baby issue; it’s something as an industry we have to change. We can no longer have the same work model for women and men who have a family. Women are fearing having a baby, or then having one and fearing going back to work. There must be a more transparent conversation around this. Through these events, we’ve had some really incredible almost group therapy sessions, which we think is down to the fact that the room is women only — it feels secure. The result? Making women feel a little less alone.
 
We understand that you also have training days?
 
Our In Training sessions came about, to be honest, because I was always scared of wine tastings. I had this very intense General Manager back in NYC who made tasting wine very intimidating, by saying things like “Be judicious”. So I thought, I am sure there are some L.O.Rs out there who feel the same, love wine as much as I do and want to learn more about it. What better way to do so, than from other ladies who are experts in the field. We’ve hosted sessions covering Champagne with Sandia Chang, the language of wine with Aimee Hartley and low intervention wines with Honey Spencer. We have since branched out into coffee with the inspiring squad down at Ozone, who hosted our first ever cupping. In October we’ll host our first workshop around securing restaurant property with Julia Wilkinson at Shaftsbury and Camilla Topham from Distrkt. Then in November we’ll host our first event in Manchester with Katie Scott of Love + Labour.
 
What are your goals?
 
Our overall goal is to bring people together. This year we took part in Taste of London in Regents Park. We had a dream team made up of Anais Van Manen, Missy Flynn and Ravneet Gill, who created a spectacular menu of food and drink. Much to our surprise, considering we don’t have a restaurant, Anais’ lamb wrapped in betel leaf dish won Best in Taste! But the real miracle was that the five-day event saw over 40 female volunteers run the L.O.R. stall, each shift a new group of women. For us it was a true testament that what we are doing is uniting a remarkable community of ladies.
 
What’s next?
 
In September we launched in Manchester and will replicate the In Conversation and In Training events we’ve seen succeed down in London. Long term? World domination obviously. But in all seriousness, we’d love to have chapters all over the world — that’s the beauty of hospitality, it’s global. It would be so empowering for us to be able to give women the kind of support and education I always wanted when I was lost, feeling like I was in some stop gap job as a waitress.
 
How do readers join your tribe?
 
Follow us on social media and have a look at the website. We are always looking for ways to grow our pack, new ideas and experts to teach In Training sessions.
 
Follow @ladiesofrestaurants on Instagram
 
Get in touch through ladies@ladiesofrestaurants.com