With a smile, 26-year-old Leah Labit approached the angry guest demanding to speak to a manager.

She introduced herself, and offered her assistance. He looked her up and down and said, "No, I want to speak to a male manager."

It was situations like this that Labit said challenged her to be confident in her supervising skills by maintaining her composure and being determined to fix the problem for that unhappy guest.

With that mentality, the Phoenix resident is now a manager at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine just across Interstate 10 in Chandler.

"I knew that being as young as I was and being female, I needed to know everything so that when I was out there I was able to make the right decisions and the right choices and be knowledgeable of everything that goes on in my restaurant," Labit said.

The 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that of the 960,000 food service managers, only 20 percent are female.

Chris Hurley, 34, administrative manager at Roy's, said that of the 10 female managers who have worked at OSI Restaurant Partners, which owns Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, she has witnessed eight who have followed a pattern of the abrasive woman-in-charge stereotype.

"A lot of women come in and they try to force the respect because they feel like it's going to be harder for them," Hurley said. "It's true that they have a harder time, but they make it harder for themselves, too."

Labit is an exception to that pattern and said she naturally adapted to the work atmosphere and had good mentors.

"I think people have a bad taste in their mouth when they think about a bossy woman, but if a guy is just as bossy it makes him a good leader or a good manager," she said.

Hurley said that although being a woman in the male-dominated profession can be difficult, the forceful attitude of attaining respect among her staff could sometimes damage a woman's integrity.

"Every manager coming in needs to show that they're part of the team and show that they're humble about it," she said.

General Manager Gary Meyers said after working in the food service industry for 27 years, earning respect from the staff and guests can be different for men and women.

"Sometimes the male will be given the respect and it's theirs to lose and with a female, sometimes they have to earn it first," he said.

To be successful in the food service industry, Meyers said managers must not portray someone they are not, despite the double-standard.

"(Women) can have the same personality as their male counterpart, but they're going to be perceived differently because they're female and that's not right," he said.

Labit said that the only time she felt as if she was working in a completely male-dominated job was while working as a hostess at a steak house in Texas, but that it had its benefits.

"It was good to have that exposure because so much was demanded of me," she said. "(Management) treated me like one of the guys. They expected more from me than any of the other hostesses."

Assistant Manager T.J. Seiker, 32, said that older female managers have the ability of using a motherly approach to staff and guests, but some younger women have to take a different approach.

"There may be people who may work under (Labit) that have been in the industry twice as long as she has," Seiker said.

Labit noted that even though she had been working for OSI Restaurant Partners for 10 years, her age could sometimes affect her credibility as a manager.

"People look at you like you're inexperienced or incapable," she said, adding that handling upset guests is a challenge, but being a new manager at a pre-existing restaurant was even more of an obstacle.

"It's hard when you're young because (the staff) has their own way and it's their restaurant and you're new coming in," Labit said.

Hurley said that younger managers have the benefit of wanting to make a difference within the company and are less likely to burn out.

Meyers added that he has high hopes for Labit in her career as a manager.

"She's definitely sharp, thorough, and has a lot of energy," he said. "The biggest thing is that she wants to learn."

• Jessica Slapke is a student at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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