For Mother’s Day this past May, we asked five moms in New York’s food and beverage industry a single question about necessary supports for parents in their business. A lot of you wrote in to ask us to give dads the same treatment. So, in honor of Father’s Day this weekend, we put the same question to five hospitality dads: What did you learn about the needs of your staff who are parents when you became a father—and how have you worked to implement that in your business? Here are their answers, edited for clarity and length.
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“With my son just turning one, and having two parents who work in the industry, too, it’s the perfect storm of not having enough time. But now that I have a little one around, I’m more cognizant of how I’m managing my time and setting expectations for my employees and colleagues in terms of my availability.
In the past, I said I was leaving at 5 or 6 o’clock and at 9 I’d still find myself working. Now my timelines are better enforced; 5 is 5. I have to be somewhere. The culture of our business is to be empathetic to people beyond their work life. We also allow our employees to see us as humans, not just providers. They can see, “Oh, he does have a family and can relate to me and understand how working long hours takes me away from my family.”
We have a young crew, but people are becoming first-time moms and dads, and a few have grandchildren. When we created this company, we wanted to put employees first and improve the quality of their lives if we could. Everybody at Bonbite has the option for health insurance, and above-minimum wage for the same type of work that can be done elsewhere. Those things really mean something to us. There’s a deeper level of connection that we have through conversations about what’s happening in your life with your kids and family, how can we support you? That gives them ease and support so they can step forward to ask for additional resources.
The connection between a mother and child starts from day one. For dads, the connection doesn’t start till nine months in. It’s very important having time to spend with my son. A lot of my cooks left in the past six months to bear children and I have to understand if they’re expecting to come back in a few months, or maybe not at all. I want to make sure the dynamic and culture of the business is such that people don’t feel frustrated if they’re doing more or less work. But empathy has grown among the team; people should be able to take time off. We’re big on “Give us notice so we can prepare, even if we’re busy.” Taking care of each other when you need something for your family—that’s an extension of the family in the kitchen, that you feel like you can ask.
We support paid time leave. Even with most of our female cooks expecting or just having given birth, we’ve been able to reallocate job duties where they’re supporting the business from the back end, and they’ve also been able to take paid time off without fear about whether they can come back. Hopefully we give the support and options they need so they don’t have to rush back in to work if that doesn’t work for their family.
We need to change the dynamic of the work culture but there’s responsibility on both ends: from the employer, to open up doors and show they’re willing to entertain conversations; and from the employee, to vocalize their needs and figure out how to contribute. My job is to work for them, to take feedback and open up doors to make sure they’re happy and understand what we need to achieve as a team.“
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Owner, Colina Cuervo
Dad to Lukas (5), Mathias & Mariella (6 months)
“Parenthood is what prompted me to open my café. When my wife and I had our first baby, I was no longer able to work the crazy hours of a full-blown restaurant, closing at 1:30 in morning, or working on weekends. Fast forward four years, we have three kids and the café was the best decision I ever made because I am home in the afternoons, always helping put them to bed, here on weekends.
For the last four years we’ve had no employees who are moms, so I haven’t been put in a position to figure out what flexibility would be required but when and if it happens I would like to think we’re going to be more sympathetic to it, working toward creating the kind of structure in which we can be flexible. I do have two dads and they have weekends off; we also close the café on the early side, so they get home before dinner.
I think the conversation about what parents need is there, but we haven’t made any major leaps. The industry continues to demand the presence of people at times it’s difficult to spend with family. Most of my peers in their 20s and early 30s were thinking, “Yeah, we can do this 24/7.” But now we realize that we want to be with our families. I worked for somebody else when my first child was born and I remember this moment in the first few months of asking to have a couple of Sundays off so I could be with my kid. I had to think a whole lot about how to approach that conversation with a person I knew was expecting me to be there during those days.
Recently, the most creative chefs are [women] and moms somehow working around challenges. But the food industry has had all this male image and big personas for a really long time. I think the public needs to be challenged about it. Another dad asked me recently why I was not at the café on Sundays. I said, “I’m usually at the playground, chasing my five-year-old, changing diapers, feeding bottles of formula.” He said, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense—but it was not until we had that conversation he realized what was happening.”
Executive Chef, Gramercy Tavern
Dad to Gaby (20), Colette (17), Addie (9)
“Our company doubled down on parental leave; dads can take four weeks off paid and four weeks at 60 percent. While leave is an enormous subject for women, it’s still an issue for men trying to be good partners and share in the responsibility of having a child. I’m proud we took that step forward and not only make it financially viable for men to step away but to make a shift in expectations at work—of what a dad does when there’s baby at home. That’s a healthy thing for our industry and for our employees
At Gramercy Tavern, we post schedules two weeks in advance and we formulate any change to the work schedule as a question: Are you available to help? We work five-day workweeks, and while it’s not protected that you definitely get two days off every week, we generally stick to that rule. Those two days are usually together, so they form a structure in which humans can make plans and have personal lives outside work. We’ve also shifted to a no-tipping, “hospitality included” policy. While hourly wages are rising, the number of hours worked is decreasing, but it’s being managed so there’s an increase in take-home pay.
One of the challenging things for me is to tackle the issue “I am not defined by my work.” Anyone who knows me knows I’ve lived my life in the complete opposite way to that, and I often feel my life is engulfed by work. Being defined by work can turn negative in our industry; the richness of life sometimes suffers. And I think we can offer people the chance to lead their lives in as rich a way as possible. If they need to carve out a separate life, we should offer that as part of the working culture at Gramercy Tavern.
I take days off. But I had a hard time coming to terms with that until Danny Meyer told me, after six months into working here when I hadn’t taken time off: “If you are not recharging your batteries and regenerating energy for your team, who will?” It was an obvious statement, but support from above saying, “This is how we work best,” which then makes its way through the organization, is important.
At monthly back-of-house roundtable meetings, we hear sometimes very basic things, like a mother who’s nursing right now said, “Thank you for making office space available so I can step off the floor to save milk, but this one wasn’t available and it’s unclear where I’m going.” And I can quickly find an easy solution rather than make her feel like she’s not sure this is possible.
Another example, not necessarily only from a parent’s perspective but in terms of how we try to impact people’s home lives: An ask came over year ago about how could employees gain access to the fresh ingredients we buy for our restaurant menu. We put together an in-house CSA, which is a twice-weekly collection of fresh vegetables, fruits and sometimes value-added products like charcuterie, pasta, sourdough starters, bread, anything that can add to the creation of a healthy meal. I like to think it puts fresh food in people’s kitchens so when they wake up on a day off and are tired, they don’t have to order in.”
Executive Chef, Oceana
Dad to 1 daughter (17)
“We work more hours than any other business, and I always think it’s so important for us to be at our job, which it is. But I also wanted to be there for everything for my daughter: publishing parties, birthdays celebrated in school, the morning breakfast thing. The people who work for us, I try to give them that opportunity also. We only have a few people with kids, so it’s not anything that comes up all the time. But I hope my staff asks; I want them to know they should ask. It may be a difficult time but we can always figure things out. I have a soft spot for that.
The world has changed and it’s a good and important thing. My dad had to work a lot when I was a kid. He didn’t see every baseball game I played but he came to what he could. When my daughter was born, I took four or five days off, then we had somebody helping my wife, and then when that person left, I took another week off because I knew I had to help. The thing about restaurants that’s different from other industries, you need people in there all the time. With a pregnancy, you know somebody is going to be taking time off and you prepare. Our sous chef took two weeks off when his kid born—that was all he wanted. One cook took eight weeks. Sure, when kids are born they have to take the time; it’s the law and you can’t mess with that. I think it’s more about, “Hey, we need Dad to be at school to do a demo on how to make mayonnaise.” Being part of your kid’s life is important.
I was lucky when my daughter was born that I was working at a restaurant that was closed Sunday. But when I when opened Telepan, all of a sudden I wasn’t around. I remember taking my daughter back to preschool and she would not let go of me. Eventually, everything settled, and I’d have the babysitter drop her off at the restaurant and we’d have dinner together. You figure it out.”
“What changes when I’m a father is I try to balance how much time I spend working and how much time I spend with my kids. It’s a struggle, always there are days when I need to choose between staying past 7 p.m. in the restaurant because you need somebody covering the line or going to my daughter’s show. We try to, instead of doing dinners together, doing breakfasts together, waking up 15 to 20 minutes earlier to have that time of talking and sharing. Other parents travel a lot, and I use that in my defense when my daughter gives me a hard time.
We have two mothers that became mothers while working with us; one recently came back with her four-month-old baby. She got maternity leave paid by the state and we made sure we could save her space for her. You can always train somebody else, but when someone comes back to work how do you incorporate them? We can figure it out now with four restaurants, but with one restaurant it’s really tough.
We know everything about everybody in our company. We function as a family in so many ways so when somebody says their kids are sick, we cover that together, and that’s been happening since day one. One of our employees at La Vara had their kid dropped off after school, doing homework for half an hour at a table upstairs; that’s a normal thing to do.”