Natalia Ribbe: "Women don’t speak up and when they do it’s treated as a spectacle"

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Ladies of Restaurants co-founder Natalia Ribbe talks Café Barletta and supporting women in hospitality

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The co-founder of Ladies of Restaurants, which supports women working in hospitality, recently opened European dining concept Café Barletta with her partner Jackson Berg in Margate’s Dreamland amusement park.

What’s the inspiration for Café Barletta?
Me and Jackson drew mainly from our favourite holiday haunts; specifically the culture in Spain and Italy, where you can always find good quality ingredients cooked with love. But we also looked at what’s happening in Margate, which has a burgeoning food scene. Naturally, being a seaside town there are a lot of fish-focused restaurants, however, we decided to focus mainly on vegetable and meat-based dishes, with a little fish thrown in for good measure.

Why Margate?
Jackson had a connection to Dreamland and Margate through his previous project, Xiringuito, which was initially based there. The pair of us had been talking about doing something together for a while, so when the opportunity came along we jumped at it. We were ready to have a break from London too, and who doesn’t want to live near the seaside?

What’s on the menu?
It’s hard to be specific as the menu changes weekly, but so far the favourites have been spiced heritage carrots with yoghurt, hazelnuts and parsley oil; steak tartare served with roasted bone marrow; and the raw sea bass with green harissa, lemon and chilli.

How long have you worked in the restaurant industry?
Basically my whole working life. I worked as a hostess at a chain restaurant when I turned 18, and when I moved to New York for university I began working at David Bouley’s Michelin-starred Danube. I developed my skill set, and eventually that brought me to London where I started working for what was then called the Village London group (now called the House Café Company) as a receptionist at the Riding House Café in Fitzrovia. Then one day someone took a chance on me quite unexpectedly, and made me head of marketing and events for the whole group; a job I definitely wasn’t ready for. But I learned on the job, I was focused. And sure I made mistakes, but I also proved myself, and it was that experience that made me who I am today.

How do you see yourself today?
I’m someone who loves to train and help others. Being a woman in the hospitality sector is, as it is in so many areas of industry, really hard. So a friend (Grace Welch) and I began hosting dinners where we would invite women who worked in hospitality along and talk about the issues they faced professionally. We’d talk about the insecurities they had regarding uniforms they were made to wear, their struggles with career progression, and even ways to make sure costings were correct. It was a great way to create some synergy between women working in the restaurant trade, which I felt was missing from my own experience. And from those evenings, Ladies of Restaurants (LOR) was born.

How would you define LOR?
I usually call it an initiative, but you could also call it a movement to help encourage women working in the hospitality industry to speak up and stand their ground. I always say it’s a growing beast. When Grace and I established it neither of us thought it would develop into what it is today, or what we see it becoming in the future.

How do you see LOR developing?
I see it as an ever-growing support network. LOR events are like group therapy sessions: I listen to what women want, and tailor our programme to ensure we’re meeting the demand of those who support and follow us. If you look across the landscape of hospitality, women are missing from a lot of the key senior roles and we want to change that. So we host discussions and talks, and a programme of training events. We want to help empower women within the industry so in the future they have the confidence to push themselves and succeed. If we want more women working in senior roles we need to imbue them with that same level of confidence. A man can look at a job description and apply even if he’s not wholly qualified; a woman with the same experience can look at that description, and if there’s even one area where she’s under-qualified she might shy away from it.

Do men ever attend LOR events?
Not really. I’ve said a thousand times, I’m not trying to bring down the patriarchy, I’m trying to bring up the matriarchy. Men are welcome to come, but they often choose not to.

Do you think they don’t care enough?
Not at all. I think collectively we’re not doing enough to address it. I was speaking to the employer of a project not too long ago about whether they were conscious of ensuring there was some sort of representative parity between men and women on his team, and he quipped that in his eyes such things didn’t matter, which is bullshit. How are we supposed to encourage women to enter any industry when such outlooks appear to remain so prevalent?

Do you think women in the industry should be angrier?
Definitely! Women don’t speak up enough and when they do it’s often treated as a spectacle. But there are some amazing women who do speak up, like Sandia Chang (of Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table) who is trying to lead by example through changes she’s made to her own business. I’m using LOR as a vessel to help facilitate that on a much broader scale.

This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the July issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here​.

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