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What a Day Without a Woman Looks Like for Restaurants

Many businesses are putting principles before profits

Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

On January 21, the Women’s March propelled millions of people across the country into the streets in what may have been the biggest-ever protest in U.S. history. Now, its organizers are pushing forward with another action in the vein of last month’s Day Without Immigrants: Dubbed a Day Without a Woman, today’s protest coincides with International Women’s Day and urges women to abstain from labor (both paid and unpaid), avoid buying anything (unless it’s from a woman- or minority-owned business), and wear red in solidarity.

The goal: protest social injustices such as gender discrimination, sexual violence, transphobia, and the attack on reproductive rights — many of which have been thrust to the forefront by the misogyny of the Trump administration — while demonstrating the vast socioeconomic impact of women by showing what a day in the U.S. might look like if roughly half the population declines to participate.

The immigrant strike was perhaps most palpable within the restaurant industry, with numerous restaurants across the country closing for the day — either in support of their immigrant workforces, or because they were too short-staffed to operate — but it remains to be seen how much of an impact today’s women’s protest will have. While immigrant labor serves as the largely invisible backbone of the U.S. restaurant industry, the same cannot quite be said for women’s labor: As Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt wrote recently, “Women [in the industry] struggle with a lack of advancement and opportunity, not a lack of visibility.” Though data shows women make up a majority of the U.S. food service industry, female head chefs are still a relative rarity, and women in the industry still face rampant sexual harassment and other hurdles such as a lack of paid parental leave.

It’s impossible to say how many will participate in today’s movement and what exactly that will look like, but it could be huge: While news of the immigrant strike seemed to spread suddenly and entirely by organic word-of-mouth, without any centralized organization, the group behind a Day Without a Woman is demonstrably more visible, with an official website explaining the ways people can participate in addition to garnering plenty of media coverage. Many worry that participation may be limited to primarily the most privileged women, however — e.g., those who can afford to take what in many cases will be an unpaid day off work, or can rely on a partner to take over childcare duties.

The results of such a movement may also be felt economically if large numbers of women decide to take abstain from their usual dining-out habits today. In the meantime, here’s a look at how several restaurateurs across the country are handling a day without women — whether it be closing altogether, giving female employees the day off, or donating money to relevant organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

Staying Open

A number of restaurants will remain open for business today, but are throwing their support behind female staffers’ participation in the protest by asking their male colleagues to step up.

At Washington, DC Mediterranean small-plates spot Nido, a woman-owned business with a primarily female workforce, two male staffers along with volunteers in the form of male friends and family members will execute service today so female staff can take a paid day off. “As a small business, it is very difficult for us to close without making up the revenue — every day counts for us,” says general manager Erin Lingle. “We’re usually closed on Mondays and we could have opened on Monday so people could make up their wages, but the staff was more excited about staying open and having the men work.”

Women dining at Nido today will get a 20 percent discount on their tab as a nod to the gender pay gap, and surplus proceeds beyond what’s needed to cover female staffers’ wages will be donated to Planned Parenthood. (Ironically, the GOP will spend International Women’s Day pushing House committee votes on Trump’s Affordable Care Act replacement, which would end federal funding to Planned Parenthood.) Diners are also being encouraged to wear red to acknowledge the protest.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Scratch F&B owner Don Mahaney will be giving his female employees a paid day off. Male guest bartenders will be brought in to help fill their roles, and the day’s proceeds and tips will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

“There are precious little things that I as a male business owner could do to be supportive of this,” Mahaney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I just really wanted to do this to support the people who work for me.”

Rose’s Fine Food in Detroit, a no-tipping restaurant that pledges a policy of paying all its employees a living wage, is taking a similar approach today: Female employees, who comprise the vast majority of the staff, are being given the day off, and male employees are stepping up to fill their roles.

Manager Bree Hietala says employees were enthusiastic about participating in the protest, but being a small business doesn’t afford them the luxury of closing for the day. Instead, she says, “The men are showing up so we can get out in the streets.”

“As soon as we heard this was going on, we said ‘Of course we’re going to participate,’” Hietala adds. “Being on the right side of political history is ingrained in our business, so we knew we needed to stand in solidarity with the strike.”

Donating Profits

A number of restaurants are staying open today to focus their energy on fostering discussion of women’s issues and/or donating to relevant causes. At Juliet in Boston, where half the staff (including two-thirds of management) are women, the restaurant is staying open today with plans to serve as a gathering spot for women. Co-owner Katrina Jazayeri will host an open salon to discuss issues facing women in business and hospitality, writing on the Facebook event page, “The absence of women from work and commerce will be drastically felt around the country on Wednesday. At Juliet, we’d like to open our doors to women and advocates who are interested in getting involved with organizing for the protection of human rights.” Coffee will be served with a suggested donation of $2, and all proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood.

In D.C., Pizza Paradiso owner Ruth Gresser is supporting female employees participating in the strike today, and also taking a symbolic stand: All locations will be serving a limited menu today with only half the usual food and drink options. “By cutting our menu in half, we symbolically reinforce the impact of a day without approximately half of the world’s population,” Gresser said in a statement. Additionally, the restaurant group will donate half of the day’s profits to two women’s organizations — the National Organization for Women and My Sister’s Place, which provides housing and services to domestic violence survivors.

Shutting Down

Other restaurants have decided to close altogether to show solidarity with the movement as well and facilitate their female employees’ participation. In Detroit, acclaimed bakery Sister Pie will remain closed today, with its all-female staff gathering for an off-site retreat. “We’re going to continue working toward being a triple-bottom line business — one that’s good for the environment, the economy, and its employees,” says owner Lisa Ludwinski.

She acknowledges the business will take a financial hit, noting that employees will be paid for the day as normal: “It’s a decision not every business can make, and we’re grateful for our ability to do that.”

“I think us being vocal about this makes our loyal customers want to support us even more,” Ludwinski adds. “It changes the idea of what a loyal customer is — not just someone who likes our pie, but someone who supports a movement we want to be a part of.”

The Ugly Mug Diner in Salem, Massachusetts posted a statement to Facebook notifying customers it will be closed today. “I am lucky that I am able to strike on Wednesday, knowing many women are not in a position to take a day off simply to call attention to women’s issues,” owner Diane Wolf told Eater Boston. “We, at the Ugly Mug, are striking in the name of women who are forced to make hard decisions every day about their economic safety, personal safety, the safety of their children or their reproductive rights. When women of color and LGBTQ citizens are treated as ‘lesser" or ‘other,’ we need to shine a light on that disparity, and that’s what I hope we are doing by closing the restaurant for the day.”

Though the response to Ugly Mug’s Facebook post has been largely positive, at least one potential customer has expressed dismay: “I thought this already happened on that day with the hats,” they write, referencing the pink “pussyhats” that dominated photos of the Women’s March. “Where should I go for lunch that day?” Below, another user responds: “Revolutions don’t happen in one day.”

A Day Without a Woman in Restaurants [E]
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