Evolving Inclusion in the Hospitality Industry

Posted on: Mar. 22, 2024 | , , , | By: Megan Stubbs

Celebrating Women’s History Month with the Women of the Cocktail Apprentice Program Leadership Team

Join us as we reflect on the journey of the Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP) and the broader hospitality sector in celebration for Women’s History Month with some of the current White Coats.

Cris Dehlavi, a veteran CAP member since 2010, notes the remarkable evolution of the program over the years. From its origins in big U.S. markets to its current global reach, CAP has embraced diversity in all its forms. Her journey reflects the gradual dismantling of barriers and the celebration of women’s contributions in bartending.

Juyoung Kang, CAP since 2015, offers a pragmatic perspective on the industry’s journey towards inclusion. While acknowledging progress, she emphasizes the need for precise definitions and guidelines to foster a culture of inclusivity.

Kaleena Goldsworthy, CAP since 2016, reminisces on her journey since joining the program in 2016. She candidly shares her initial trepidations, highlighting the imposter syndrome that often plagues women in male-dominated fields.

Alexis Belton Tinoco’s, CAP since 2016, call to “never settle” resonates deeply, urging women to challenge the status quo and pursue their dreams fearlessly.

Read below for a deeper dive into their thoughts of the program and the evolving industry: 

You’ve been a CAP for a while now, what has changed over the years in regards to inclusion?

“I was accepted into the CAP program in 2016, and the program changed my life. I remember feeling intimidated to work with so many incredible bartenders and, at times, being scared to raise my voice. I feel it was imposter syndrome, but truly it felt heavier than that. Finding your place in the bartending industry as a woman has not been easy. The CAP leadership has always led with integrity and it was something that shaped my perspective in a managerial role, but it also gave me hope. Seeing respect – seeing how the leading professionals cared for and helped pave the way for new people, changed the trajectory of my career and my life – but also for the direction of the CAP program. To see so many incredibly talented, intelligent and inspirational women on the CAP leadership team is new. When I was brought on in 2016, Cris was the only female White Coat. Now, of the six white coats, we have women in four of the seats. Creating space for new perspectives is so important, and I am humbled by the role I have been asked to play as it concerns the direction of the Cocktail Apprentice Program. I have seen so much good in the eight years I have engaged with this program – and I have seen changes in each year I am fortunate enough to return. We focus on the well-being of others – we see the importance of creating safe spaces to learn and grow – and we recognize that this is imperative to create a more sustainable and thriving hospitality industry, regardless of the location. There are many voices behind the bartenders changing our industry. I feel I have seen a shift in our industry as a whole from being intimidated by the people moving up the ranks, to celebrating their achievements. I have seen leaders listen to the concerns of others and make changes and difficult decisions to protect the safety of their team. Hospitality is all about taking care of other people, and the shift I have seen in this program over the last eight years has definitely been one that focuses on that. We cannot begin to make big changes without first implementing the small ones. Every step is one worth celebrating, and I am honored to be a part of the bigger picture.” – Kaleena Goldsworthy

“I have been a CAP since 2010 and so much has changed! Back in the early days of the program the majority of CAPs were from big U.S. markets, and very few if any from international markets. Also, the majority of CAPs were men, as has been the case in this industry for a long, long time. Now, 14 years later, our CAP team is a fairly even split of male/female/non-binary as well as people from all over the world, and many small cities and towns. I was the first female White Coat, which at that time (2015) was a really big deal. Since then we have had many others and currently there are 4 of us! I have loved watching the evolution of this program.” – Cris Dehlavi

“In general, the industry as a whole has moved the needle to be more inclusive. It’s a slow moving needle, but there is progress. I think what inclusion is should be defined more precisely instead of a blanket statement and understanding. There could be more precise rule of thumb put into handbooks or taught as a culture for more outlets, venues, and stand alone establishments to use it as a benchmark of how to treat their employee-employer relationship in a more positive manner. And then it can be applied to conferences, programs and industry-wide as a standard. Building that culture starts with defining it first instead of leaving it to interpretation.” – Juyoung Kang

Are there any women role models or mentors who have influenced your career in hospitality? If so, how?

“Yes! Monica Berg is a huge role model for me. I admire her approach to being a business owner and the conversations surrounding education and mentorship. It’s one thing to own a bar and have people want to work for you because it looks great on a resume… it is another thing to have people want to come work for you because they are seeking continued education, exploration of creativity and moving outside of their comfort zones. Her shared insight is open source information, something this industry could use more of. I respect that she uses her voice and platform within the hospitality industry to create access for the younger generation of hospitality professionals.” – Alexis Belton Tinoco

“Two women who truly helped me find my footing in this industry are Alexis Belton and Cris Dehlavi. I met Alexis on the shuttle headed to the Hotel Monteleone in 2016; we were both Red Coats together. I sheepishly introduced myself and was immediately intimidated by her extensive resume. Shortly after this interaction, I met Cris, the only female White Coat in the CAP program. During our time together that year, Alexis and I became very close friends – and we still are to this day. She consistently amazes me because of her humility, intelligence, and ability to teach others without coming across as pretentious or demeaning. I have always admired her leadership style and worked to model that behavior in my home market. I share the same sentiment for Cris. Cris gave me something to aspire to – seeing a woman wearing a white coat in a male-dominated industry. This aspiration wasn’t fueled by an “I want this for my resume” type of accolade – it was to learn how to be a better mentor. To learn how to help. To be a voice for change and inspiration. We know that change always brings with it uncertainty – it’s what holds us back so often. In order to shake things up and change the status quo, you need to be challenged. These women helped me to find solid ground when I needed to change my career. After my Red Coat year in 2016, I left bartending and started Tennessee’s first bitters company, The Bitter Bottle (now Maven Table). I genuinely believe I would never have taken such a step out of my comfort zone without these women. They helped me see just what I was capable of and were always there to cheer me on.” – Kaleena Goldsworthy

“Audrey Saunders was always a role model for me. She made a name for herself from hard work, genuine talent and hospitality, in a time and place where there were very few women in the industry.” – Cris Dehlavi

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to pursue a career in the hospitality industry? 

“Never Settle. We are often our own worst enemies and can be so critical of ourselves. I implore you to direct some of that critical evaluation into the environments around you and ask questions and challenge ideas that are misaligned. While it’s important to learn how to walk the fine line between this and that, sometimes you have to learn how to cross lines and put yourself in spaces that weren’t built for you. Walls are designed to keep people in or out… never settle on the idea that it’s okay to only exist on one side of that wall. Set goals. Set them at 1, 5 and 10 years. Know that life changes and that a 10 year goal might change. But set goals and give yourself markers and milestones to reach. They can be simple and concentrated or they can be ever-expanding and grandiose. But set them, manage them and then manage your expectations around them. Tend to them and don’t forget about them. Goals and dreams have always been slightly interchangeable for me… and I would hate to forget about my dreams because I got wrapped up in the now. You can live in the moment while still preparing for your future.” – Alexis Belton Tinoco

“Probably the biggest thing I have learned in this industry is that when you hit a roadblock, keep going. When things feel too difficult, trust that that is actually forward movement. Being a woman in the hospitality industry comes with its challenges, but there have also never been so many doors open to explore. In my career, every roadblock I hit meant that there was an opportunity that someone had not yet explored, so why not me? If someone was going to do it, why not me? I think about this often, especially as a small business owner. Keep moving forward and celebrate every small win. We are powerful, and we have a lot to say and show the world, so don’t let anyone 

tell you you can’t.” – Kaleena Goldsworthy

“Keep your head up and be unapologetic. Too many times I hear women, especially, always apologizing for things that they didn’t do. I always say be bold and just do it. Ask for forgiveness later. Either way, if they don’t like it they’re going to say no. But at least when you go ahead and do it, you can see that you implemented something, launched it, and got it operational. Doing it allows you to see what you’re capable of and define your worth. Better something concrete than a theory. Promise you, it’s not a waste of your time… more an achievement.” – Juyoung Kang

“Be authentic, genuine, and lead with hospitality first and foremost. Don’t have an attitude or chip on your shoulder of having to prove something. Learn everything you can about spirits, cocktails, and service. Your talent will shine through and that is what will make you successful.” – Cris Dehlavi

As we navigate the ever-changing currents of the hospitality industry, one thing remains clear: the journey toward true inclusion is ongoing. It requires not only the dedication of individuals but also the collective effort of the entire community. By amplifying diverse voices, challenging outdated norms, and fostering a culture of empowerment, we can create a hospitality industry that embraces and celebrates all who contribute to its vibrancy and success.


Paving the Way

1.5 mezcal (not too smokey)

0.5 oz. Ancho Chili Liqueur

1.5 oz freshly juiced ripe pineapple

0.25 oz. Lime Syrup

2 – 3 dashes The Bitter Bottle Roasted Dandelion Root Bitters

Shaken and served on the rocks. Garnish with an Ancho Chili Salt Rim and a fresh dandelion.



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