My favorite part of Roald Dahl’s The Witches has always been the scene when the young boy stumbles upon a witch convention at a fancy beachfront hotel on the English coastline. Peeking in on their proceedings, he watches the women take off their disguises only to reveal toe-less square feet and bald heads while plotting to use a magical formula to turn all the children in England into mice. It’s terrifying not so much because of the plan, but because of their collective power.

[content-2] That scene came to mind this morning at organizer Randi Weinstein’s inaugural FAB Conference. Stay with me here. The two day workshop for women in hospitality found me sitting in a CofC lecture hall surrounded by seemingly normal, intelligent, hard working women. Until it happened. All of a sudden the panel began talking about sexism and mental health and workplace politics, and as I turned to the audience I saw a remarkable change. The women in the room hadn’t pulled a Dahl and removed wigs to expose some kind of sorcery, instead they did something even more powerful — they let down their guards and started talking candidly about the nitty gritty hot button topics affecting the food and beverage industry today and how to change them. It wasn’t a room full of witches, but there’s no arguing that I was looking at a really big coven of badass women.

This morning’s panel, featuring Editor Kat Kinsman, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group Partner Nancy Selzer, VP of Operations for Hill Country Hospitality Susan Spikes, Batali & Bastianich Director of Food Safety & Sustainability Elizabeth Meltz, and former editor of Wine & Food Dana Cowin, focused on all of the challenges facing women in F&B that no one really wants or has time talk about in the average work week. Things like:

—Being respected as a leader and not just as a helper or adviser.
—Not obsessing over needing to be liked.
—Strategies to avoid and manage conflict
—How to learn to stop apologizing
—Using labor laws to your own benefit
—How to respond to sexism, both from coworkers and customers
—Not being afraid to standup for yourself
—Resisting the urge to take care of everybody
—How do you address issues without appearing weak or crazy

And embracing the fact that, as Kinsman said, “Asking someone to do their job is not being a bitch.”

[content-3] Just one panel in FAB’s 15 sessions, the discussion allowed women in various roles in the hospitality industry to ask some of the most successful leaders in F&B tough questions like what do you do if you want to support a team member going through depression but also need them to show up on time? Or, how do you get your GM to tell a customer he can’t keep coming in and commenting on your boobs? And most importantly, how can you set a tone within a restaurant organization where people feel OK broaching these topics?

The results? A lot of candid responses and plenty of laughter. In regards to sexism, Meltz reminded the audience that they have a legal obligation to report such incidents. When it came to mental health, Kinsman urged the women to be open with each other about such problems. “Chefs die all the time and no one talks about it,” she said. And on the subject of finding work life balance, Selzer came clean: “I’ve just taken a few months off. I wasn’t being a parent and I realized my quality of life was shit.”

In a high pressure, male dominated industry where women hustle to fit in, get promoted, and build their reputations, this is the stuff people aren’t necessarily talking about in public, and based on the FAB attendees’ reactions, the subjects were necessary, cathartic, and empowering. And the talk was seemingly just as inspiring to the panel as it was to the FAB audience.

As Selzer said, “The best thing I see about the next generation here is millennials don’t put up with shit. Y’all rise to the challenge.”

FAB will return next year, June 12-13. For more information, visit

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