Women in Foodservice | February 2013 | By Julie Knudson

Mother Knows Best

Balancing work and family obligations takes dedication, but benefits abound for mothers and their brands.

PBandU owner Mercury Amodio understands mothers need for flexibility at work.
PBandU owner Mercury Amodio says employers must understand mothers’ need for flexibility in the workplace. PBandU
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No longer do women have to choose between a career and motherhood. But finding time to work and have a successful foodservice career—while also raising kids and staying in tune with a busy family—can be a daunting challenge.

“The restaurants are very important to us, but my family is very important to me, as well,” says America Corrales Bortin, cofounder of America’s Taco Shop in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Experts say balancing family life and work as an owner-operator or executive in the quick-service industry is all about establishing priorities and, at the same time, providing flexibility so other mothers in the organization can do the same.

Getting the kids fed and off to school is a top priority for Bortin, a mother of two. Only then does the transition to work mode happen. With the kids busy at school, she checks each of the brand’s locations to see how things are going and determines what she needs to focus on that day. In the afternoons, family responsibilities again become priority as Bortin heads home to pick up her girls, make them something to eat, and devote time to school activities.

Mercury Amodio, owner of peanut-butter-sandwich concept PBandU in Moorestown, New Jersey, has a young son and another child on the way, and has found a similar balance. She says she learned early on that delegating tasks was crucial to a good equilibrium between work and home. To have the time and energy to care for her growing family, it was important that someone else in the company could handle things when there weren’t enough hours in the day for her to tackle it all herself.

“It’s being able to let go,” she says. By handing off some responsibilities to a trusted employee, Amodio can focus on those parts of the business that require her attention. “That then leaves me time for my family.”

Amodio says employing someone with parental responsibilities requires as much flexibility as possible. For example, parents may need to pick up kids from school, whether the timing is convenient or not. “I would be way more lenient in working around their schedule,” Amodio says. “I would make it known to my manager that this is someone we have to work with.”

These time constraints are something Bortin sees firsthand when managing her own kids’ schedules, so she says she understands the demands placed on her employees. Mothers may need some flexibility in early-morning start times so they’re able to see their kids off to school.

The same holds true for midday obligations, but Bortin says these situations don’t need to leave parents and employers with either-or decisions. “When there are activities at school, just run to the school and make sure you’re there for your kid. It doesn’t take a lot,” she says. “Go for an hour and come back.”

Working with her team to provide them the flexibility to take quick family breaks, Bortin says, benefits employee and employer alike. She believes it’s important to take care of the people who take care of the business.

Because quick serves are typically open from morning until night seven days a week, they may naturally have more flexibility than companies in other industries to support mothers’ needs for unconventional hours or family-focused time away. “I have so many shifts that I need to cover that, as long as I know what people’s availability is, I can plug them in where I need coverage,” says Melanie Kittrell, a Philadelphia-based Doc Popcorn franchisee. “If you have enough notice that people are going to need some time away, … you can much more easily find others on the team that are looking for extra hours.”

A recent study published in the American Sociological Review shows working mothers spend more time multitasking than working fathers do. It’s a skill set that can be valuable in the workplace, and providing an environment that supports the needs of families means the employer reaps the benefits of those skills, too.

“I think as mothers, we definitely know how to juggle everything,” Bortin says. Balancing family duties is often second nature for mothers, who volunteer for activities at their children’s schools, keep track of homework, and ensure everything is accounted for when dropping kids off at daycare. “It can become a little overwhelming at times,” Bortin says, “but just seeing the end result makes it so much better.” That same get-it-all-done mentality takes over when they get to work, helping them simultaneously tackle tasks like customer service.

One thing Amodio says she’s gotten better at since becoming a mother is being more empathetic. She says she’s discovered a greater ability to identify what people are feeling and what their expectations are. “You can see from across the room if someone is displeased with something,” she says. This heightened awareness may allow mothers to spot an unhappy customer, and to jump in to turn things around. “I’ve just become more aware of how other people are feeling, and how they could be feeling,” Amodio says.

Among the range of skills that parents, and mothers in particular, bring to the workplace, problem-solving prowess may be the most crucial, Kittrell says. The details of a conflict involving employees may be different than one involving children, but the ability to resolve these issues is something moms are often especially good at.

“Those negotiation skills that you develop as a parent, you can apply those in the workplace, too,” Kittrell says. “Negotiation skills, conflict resolution, good communication—sometimes they’re similar issues. You’re just applying them in different settings.”