From working the counter at Dippin’ Dots to Einstein Bros. Bagel on the University of Southern Mississippi campus, to Longhorn Steakhouse then a Corporate Management Trainee at a Hyatt Regency in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, to now being the Director of Student Nutrition at Mansfield ISD. Rita Denton, MBA, was one of the first women I met in a leadership role when I started my journey with Chrane. I was enamored with her upbeat personality and the ease of controlling the room! This infectious positivity led me to this interview with her, in which I was able to learn more on the ins and outs of foodservice from different perspectives and what’s changed.
How long have you been in the Foodservice industry?
Ever since I was 15 years old and applied to be a busser at a Bed & Breakfast right outside of Boston! I couldn’t even drive yet; my mom drove me there 4-5 nights a week. I fell in love with it after being promoted to hostess and knew I wanted to stay in hospitality somehow.
Describe YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE.
I have very high expectations for myself and my team. I’m very competitive – would even say I’m competitive leader. Continuous improvement is really what I strive for, I love building strong and creative teams. My role is to give them the tools and the vision, while I empower them to set up processes and put their ideas out there. I’m also never afraid to roll up my sleeves and stand right there with them, which can be a big humility exercise but then I get to see the processes and regulations first-hand, I learn the most doing that. Giving credit and being specific on why someone did a good job is huge for me, celebration of one another is so important and I love celebrating my team.
Who has been a role model to you?
That one is easy, my mom! She's back up in Pennsylvania. She has been my role model my whole life, because she’s one of those life-long learners that just loves to research things, and she gave us (five kids!) her all. She is the definition of a supermom!
Are there any challenges ahead for young women in foodservice to watch for?
The workplace has and is going to change based on pandemic, new technology that is available and what’s going on right now, the war in Ukraine. New generations are coming up too, it is important to understand that. Women should be cautiously optimistic of the dynamics in the ever-changing workplaces.
What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders?
A few things!
- Work hard and never accept status quo.
- Build a solid network, going to conferences that make you get out of your comfort zone lead to meeting some incredible people.
- Take care of your body! It shouldn’t be taboo or something that we shouldn’t address, we should be proud to take care of ourselves and live healthy lives.
- Lastly, CEO’s put their pants on one leg at time, just like everyone else.
As a leader, how do you stay mindful of being inclusive or promote inclusivity?
I think that is an interesting question. Because of all my different workplaces, I have been fortunate to have a lot of diverse staff and clientele. Celebrate those cultures and religions! Our differences are what makes us special, we get new ideas from all corners in an organization and that is what makes us all better individually. Mansfield ISD has over 100 spoken languages in our school districts, and we include a variety of diets on our menu, so the differences are embraced by all. When we discuss any changes to policy or food offerings, diversity is at the top of mind, and it is important to involve many opinions and viewpoints in major decisions, including different education backgrounds.
How do we recruit more women or the upcoming generation?
The foodservice industry has come such a long way and we have progressed so much in just a decade. For example, I’ve got 4 kids, my oldest is 12 and youngest is 6. When I just had my oldest, nursing my newborn son was impossible at work, almost embarrassing… But by the time that happened with my youngest in 2015, the culture was a totally different spot, and it did not feel that way at all. We must continue to embrace what employees go through personally and continue to get creative with flexibility. I would like to add the value of job fairs and sharing your story! It is really fun to talk about leadership and the industry with young girls. A lot of people don’t know this side of foodservice even exists.
What WAYS DO YOU STAY GROUNDED? OR STEPS TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF?
Must have a sense of humor at work! Laugh at myself all the time, that’s all you can do. My family keeps me grounded, I love taking my kids to the park and museums, we also go to the beach every year. Going to church weekly helps me reset spiritually.
WOW. The recent 2022 FAME award winner, yep that’s her, gave me such hope for what is to come in the wonderful world of foodservice. The celebration of what make people different and embracing nature, is exactly what makes Rita a great role model to follow! I could listen to her stories all day and still felt like I wish I had more time to chat. The path she created proves to me that there is true joy in what we do in foodservice and that it this is only a start, continuing to learn and open up about it is how we keep getting there.
here are some of Rita'S TOP EQUIPMENT PICKS:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
This article was written by Meredith Mulliken, Chrane's Marketing Manager, to shine light on all the great women she looks up to in foodservice. This blog is designed to share the wealth of knowledge from females that helped pave the road map and excite new, young professionals to join our amazing industry.