International Women’s Day
A focus on Sarah Reeves – the value more women can bring to the catering industry
On International Women’s Day, we are launching our monthly series of features on women who work in our business. Today, we speak to our AM Food Catering Manager Sarah Reeves who is responsible for feeding around 600 staff at the leading Deeside engine plant for a Japanese multinational automotive manufacturer.
In an industry that is seen as traditionally male, where women are still greatly outnumbered by men, especially at senior levels, we talk to Sarah about her job and inspirations. We discuss why she thinks there are still so few women in catering and what value more women can bring, especially around positive change for the environment and society.
We discover that the stereotypical image of the aggressive, controlling male-led culture in the kitchen isn’t always too far from the truth and that, when Sarah started out in the business she often had to get dressed with the men after a shift because there were no female changing facilities.
We asked Sarah…
What do you do each day in your job?
I’ve been in this role for 18 months now and I’m responsible for menu planning, costing menus, food orders, cooking the food and some less exciting elements such as washing the dishes.
How did you get into catering as a career?
I’ve been in catering for 18 years and started an apprenticeship when I was 16. But I’d started even before that because, when I was 13, I had a weekend job as a waitress at a golf club. It was there that I started a love for food, watching the chef and helping him wherever I could. I was lucky enough to do my apprenticeship with him too.
Do you feel that catering is still a male dominated profession?
It’s extremely male dominated. I’ve never worked with another female chef in my career.
I think sometimes women can be put off by the fact that it’s a very physical job, probably not seen as very glamorous, and often with long and often unsociable hours. It can also be difficult when you have a family.
I’m a mum myself and I was lucky enough to find a job to fit around my family. These roles are few and far between. It’s not been easy. I’ve had to be up at 4 am and work split shifts to do it! I also knew I wouldn’t be able to take too much time off after having my son for fear of not being able to regain my place in the kitchen.
You’ve got to have a passion for what you do. Things definitely need to change.
Now my son is 14, and I’m working with AM Services Group, things are much easier.
Who has inspired you in your career?
I have been most inspired by a woman catering manager I worked with and who I’m still in contact with now. She was a very strong woman in a man’s environment. She wouldn’t let the male chefs push me aside and made sure that I was central to the mix.
We need more role models like this in our industry to combat the image that men are most successful in catering, because that’s what you predominantly see on TV and in the magazines.
What value can women bring to the catering industry?
I think that women can be more empathetic with their customers and team and they bring strong communications skills. There’s always a nice, positive morale in my kitchen and I encourage a close-knit and supportive team.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I’ve got a passion to make people happy through the food that I’ve cooked. I enjoy making people smile when they visit their workplace restaurant. They have worked hard, they need good, fresh and nutritious food served with a smile and a little chat when they come for their break.
Working with AM Services Group has allowed me the freedom to be creative. I love creating and serving something great with fresh, local ingredients that, at first, seem totally random.
No two days are the same in my current role and it’s fast paced… I like to move at a fast pace. I don’t even sit down when I go home!
What would you say to encourage young women into catering?
It’s a great industry for them to be in. It’s a growth industry as people will always need to eat. It’s a good place to be if you’re creative. It’s continously changing and never boring as there is always something new to learn and new food trends.
On International Women’s Day 2022, how do you think we can start to forge more inclusive work cultures in catering where women’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated?
We need to press for more sociable and flexible hours to enable more women to come and work in the food industry. We need to give increased profile to successful women as positive role models. We need to support and encourage each other. With our empathy and understanding as women we can start to change cultures, creating an environment that encourages positive well-being, both amongst our own staff in the kitchen and for the customers we serve in workplace catering.