From Cooks to CEOs: Celebrating the Impact of Women in Hospitality

Mar 7, 2023
group of diverse women

For over a century, March 8th has been observed as a special day for women across the globe. International Women’s Day is a celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.  Women have made significant impact across all industries including hospitality, where they played a pivotal role in the shaping of how we run hotels and restaurants in the today.  

The earliest records of women in the hospitality industry date back to the medieval era when women were responsible for managing inns and guesthouses. These establishments were often situated along popular trade routes and served as a place for travelers to rest, eat, and find shelter.

medieval women working at an inn  
Women in medieval times were responsible for cooking, cleaning, and providing a safe and comfortable environment for their guests. Many of these women were widows or unmarried, and the hospitality industry provided them with a means of earning a livelihood and supporting themselves.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, as travel became more popular, the demand for hotels and other accommodations increased. Women continued to play a crucial role in the hospitality industry, managing and operating hotels and guesthouses. In many cases, women’s management of these establishments was more successful than men’s, as they often had a better understanding of the needs and preferences of their guests.

Madame de Pompadour portrait  
In the 18th century, Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV of France, set the standard for luxury hospitality. She was known for her impeccable taste in decor and her passion for hosting elaborate parties, which attracted high society to her chateau.

In the early 20th century, Cesar Ritz, a Swiss hotelier, established the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, and it was his wife, Marie Louise Ritz, who played a crucial role in the management and success of the hotels. She oversaw the daily operations, ensuring that every guest had a memorable experience.

Rosa Lewis & Cavendish Hotel in 1890s 
Another prominent figure in the hospitality industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Rosa Lewis was known as the “Queen of Cooks”. She was the owner of The Cavendish Hotel, located in the exclusive Mayfair district of London. She transformed the hotel into a luxurious and exclusive destination for the rich and famous, attracting guests such as Edward VII, Winston Churchill, and Charlie Chaplin. Lewis was known for her attention to detail and her exquisite taste, and she was renowned for her culinary skills and ability to create extravagant meals for her guests.

During the mid-20th century, women started breaking barriers and entering leadership roles in the hospitality industry. One such woman was Alice Marriott, who, along with her husband, founded the Marriott hotel chain. She was instrumental in the development and expansion of the chain, and her contributions helped make it one of the largest hotel chains in the world.

important women who have made difference in hospitality 
In recent times, women have continued to make strides in the hospitality industry. In 2004, the Four Seasons Hotel in New York appointed its first female executive chef, Carme Ruscalleda, who became the first woman to earn three Michelin stars. In 2012, the French chef Anne-Sophie Pic became the first woman in over 50 years to earn three Michelin stars for her restaurant in Valence, France. In 2010, Kathleen Taylor became the CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and led this global hospitality company until 2013.

Women have played a vital role in shaping the industry, bringing their creativity, innovation, and passion for hospitality to the forefront. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us remember and honor the contributions of these remarkable women who have paved the way for the next generation of leaders in the hospitality industry.

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