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Perceptions of dining/service issues: The John Fowles vs. Cyndi Lauper hypothesis

Hello... On my local board (Los Angeles), I've noticed an interesting (to me, at least :-) phenomenon, which seemingly appears to be on the rise. When discussing service issues at a given restaurant (often mid-range to higher end places, or trendy eateries with hoppin' bar scenes), a poster (generally male, in my observations) will report an unpleasant and often blatantly abyssmal experience with their waitstaff and/or the chef (as in the case of a sushi bar or a restaurant with an open kitchen). This ineveitably brings on a fair sampling of responders who provide examples of 180-degree experiences at the same establishment. Now here's the interesting bit: I notice that the OP's (complainers) are often male diners and the 180-degree responders (satisfied advocates) are often female. Stay with me here. Previous to this, I'd read many an account on these boards from women who've stated that when out solo as single diners, they tend to get the bad tables, the indifferent service, and the stink-eye from hostesses and waitstaff; in short, the tendency of solo female diners receiving subpar service, all too frequently. BUT, then comes the recent spate of postings that I mentioned above, wherein generally male posters report on poor service and are replied to by generally female posters who state the contrary, i.e. "but the bartender was so helpful and witty" or their server was "gracious and accomodating" or 'the chef was only too happy to provide substitutions", etc... Now, I don't want to even suggest and fan the flames of some gender-based turf war here (truly, I dont!). And I would not even give this passing mention if i didn't see this phenomenon played out so often of late on my local board... So the question I guess that I'm posing is the following: do non-solo female diners (women dining with other women, or with a mixed group of men and women, or with their male/female SOs), merely by virtue of their *possibly* superior natural or acquired skills as social lubricants and communicators, experience better performance from the front and back of the house, as a very broad (no pun intended) generalization? Do the men and women here find that when a woman or women are in your dining party, things go much more smoothly with regard to service issues, generally speaking? The late great author John Fowles (in the novel, The Magus) once wrote that (and I'm paraphrasing): " men see objects, and women see the relationship between objects ", and the reason wars are fought was based on this lack of relationship/object perception by men. Again, a sweeping generalization, but I wonder if this can sometimes or even often account for the situations that i described above. If women have greater skills as social lubricants/communicators in restaurants, can that account for their perception of (and possibly, actually receiving) better service when dining with others? I'm sure I have said things here to unintentionally affront posters for any number of reasons on a multiple of levels -yikes - but I really want to wrap my mind around the discrepancies that seem to play out all too often. The possibility of my being way off here and simultaneoulsy oygen-starved or insane is considerable. But that doesn't elimate the possibility that the hypothesis might have some weight as well. And yes, of course this is the 21st century and not the 1950s ( or 1850s) of which John Fowles so ably wrote. I just wanna know if women perecieve better service because, well, Cyndi Lauper might've been correct ;-) And now, I will duck down very low...

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  1. The high proportion of posters who cannot be gender-identified would have made it difficult to have a basis for the question.

    I don't know if you, for example, are male or female (and how could you be called "silence"?)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Hi... Quite right, Sam (or Samantha ;-). But on my local board, it gets very easy to spot well known posters when one reads with more than a modicum of observation. I, for example, will often reference my wife, which will usually imply that as husband I am a male. Not always the case, but more often than not. Or a poster will mention attending a girls night out. You get the drift. Visiting a board/forum beyond my local one ( Los Angeles ), it becomes more difficult to ascribe/presume gender, as I'm not as invested in the culinary lives of CHers at a distance. But your point is taken, Sir ;-)

    2. I really liked your post, not offensive at all. I read all the boards, so maybe the male/female give take is an LA board thing?

      Maybe it is just coincidence?
      I do know that there is of course the tendency people have to jump on and defend a place that is getting a bad write up if they themselves like it?

      Or maybe... what makes the average woman's dining experience pleasant is slightly different from what makes the average man's dining experience pleasant?

      I know that good service is good service and bad service is bad service ... but there's always little mitigating things that can tilt the scales and I think those mitigating things are where male and female experience and perception may differ.

      That said, I am a restaurateur and have obviously dealt with terrible customers both male and female. I don't necessarily think women "have greater skills as social lubricants"... some of the most abrasive guests I've ever encountered were women.

      (and I happen to be a woman)

      End of the day I think some restaurants may have a very male energy and some may have a very female energy and that could cause some of this.

      Great post though and I am interested to see where this goes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lebelage

        Hello... I think your observation of the energies attached to a restaurant or bar is spot on correct. Esoterically, the concept of environments where people gather - having a certain energetic lineage that is fed by the preponderance of individuals who congregate there with similar motivations and goals - is known as an *egregore*. I think this may indeed be the case at times in very intense restaurant settings...

      2. Wow, I hadn't noticed any such phenom, but I don't spend any time on the LA board. IF there is any truth to your hypothesis, could it be that more women have waited tables, and are therefore a lot more forgiving? I realize that men are still found waiting tables in upscale places more often, but the vast majority of places out there are not upscale. Then again, as a woman who waited tables for years, maybe I'm just projecting here ...

        4 Replies
        1. re: LulusMom

          I don't know that women get better service or that they are less likely to be picky about it. However, to be honest, I'm much more forgiving about lax service than my wife is, but then I've worked as a server and she hasn't. However, to answer your question, I find that I am more likely to get great service when I am out with other guys (say at our monthly wine outings) than I am when in a mixed group. Maybe it is the perception that we spend more and tip better than women (one of the major complaints I had and heard often from other servers was that women are lousy tippers) or that men are more likely to not notice less than stellar service if the server is an attractive or young (or both) woman.

          1. re: LulusMom

            I don't get the Cyndi Lauper reference... and I'm wracking my brain trying to remember all her lyrics....
            My take: I am a woman, and a server. I can safely say that the majority of my more annoying customers are also women, so that dynamic is out. (Makes me curious if they behave differently with my male peers, though; there's certainly something to be said for flirtation in the server/diner dynamic.) I wonder, though, if traditionally women have been trained to be happy with less... the Christie Brinkley/Billy Joel syndrome, or the number of women who stay in bad relationships, as examples... or are trained to complain less... and are therefore more likely to claim that something was better than it was.

            1. re: ctscorp

              The Cyndi Lauper reference: 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. Them's her words, not mine ;-)

              1. re: silence9

                Duh! And to think I knew all the lyrics to her songs back when I was in middle school! I just couldn't get "She-Bop" out of my head, and I had NO idea how THAT would pertain to restaurant service! :)

          2. I'm a woman and I can honestly count the amount of times I've received bad service on two fingers. In both these instances I was dining with other women. Mr Boo and I go out to eat 3-4 times a week and service is always good if not great.

            Most of my male friends receive very good service when dining out on their own, as opposed to many of my female friends. Way back when it used to be assumed that women were poor tippers, which might explain the less than stellar service, but nowadays I don't think that's the case anymore.

            2 Replies
            1. re: hrhboo

              Not to be presumptuous, but if that's you in your avatar then you're better than average looking. Very good looking people often get better service, male or female. Especially in LA.

              1. re: foodism

                Thank you, I guess I'm alright. That still doesn't explain why I've had 2 bad service experiences while dining with very attractive female friends.

            2. I'm not sure if it necessarily has to do with gender, I think very attractive people, charismatic people and wealthy-looking people generally get better more attentive service. This has been my experience in my social circles

              1 Reply
              1. re: foodism

                I'll agree with that one... "unfortunately" as a person who doesn't fit those categories. I supposed it's the presumption that they are for fun and interactive, and therefore better tippers. Too bad because it's that cycle of assuming bad tipper therefore giving bad service, therefore getting bad tip... perpetuating the stereotype.

              2. I'm a woman, and worked in restos for over 12 years and liked it. My SO is a man who worked in one for a year and a half and hated it. We both have the utmost respect for the biz, and make a point of not just acknowledging our servers/bartenders, but also asking their names and adddressing them as such. We also tip very well and are more forgiving of problems or errors. The combination of all these things has led for us to get great service pretty much across the board. Even after one visit people remember us, often by name, and greet us smiling (whether we are together or with all male/all female friends). I love it.

                I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with gender. I think it has to do with how you interact with your servers. Other posters have mentioned flirting, and there is definitely some of that involved - when you've got a group of girls and the bartender is cute or you've got a group of guys and the server is hot. I'd even go so far as to say that a good server interacts with each group based on that group's dynamic. Therefore the group is happier. In LA there are a great number of male servers at every level, from low end to high end. Maybe those male servers are just better at interacting with girls.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: mojoeater

                    I completely agree, and I'm convinced that this is why Mr Boo and I always get great service too!

                  2. Don't know for sure how this fits in the discussion, but the one constant I've noticed in most of the louder complaint postings is that the complainer tends to have definite expectations about how a particular food or beverage is supposed to be, and a very limited tolerance for any deviation from that. I was floored by one guy who complained that he's ordered some kind of martini and it was TOO STRONG (though of course he wasn't actually talking about a martini at all, but one of those twinky drinks they serve in a martini glass). I've also noticed that they seem to be the kind of people who, once their panties start wadding up, they make no effort to curtail the process, but allow each new annoyance to build on the rest. I know I've been guilty of that, which has not only messed up my evening but that of my companion(s) as well, and I'm damned glad I've mostly gotten over it or I'd probably be dead or divorced by now. What's really funny is that some of the reviews I've posted, in which I mentioned some shortcomings of food and/or service but gave a favorable recommendation anyway, have drawn comments about how remarkably (or ridiculously!) tolerant I am, and how this or that thing I mentioned would have made THEM demand to see the manager, or simply to walk out...and these comments are as likely to come from women as from men.

                    1. I'm male and I've reported on two horrible experiences. I've also reported on several great experiences. I only posted the bad ones to warn people as to what might happen to them. As far as the male/female thing, my wife was more offended and is way more strident in her condemnation of these restaurants than I. It’s lucky for them that I do the posting.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: BN1

                        I don't know about the reporting proportions because I haven't really paid all that much attention to it. What I do know is that I personally am not tolerant at all of bad service in restaurants, much less so than my husband is. What makes the difference? I grew up in and around a restaurant. I know what it's supposed to be like. I take after my dad, who also has no use for bad service. He's not a hotheaded type, but I remember a few times growing up when my mom talked him out of saying something when we were eating out and something wasn't right.

                        But while I'm extremely intolerant of bad service and--perhaps especially--attitude, I tend to be more forgiving of honest mistakes. Again, it's background.

                      2. An interesting hypothesis, and I don't have the data to corroborate your theory, but
                        women do seem (broad generalizations)
                        --to be more verbal
                        --to greet warmly, make eye contact, encounter the human
                        --be specific about details they would prefer, perhaps from cooking, being a hostess at home
                        --more forgiving of errors
                        --more affected by alcohol (flirting, laughing, willing to let things slide -- yes this could have the opposite effect, granted)

                        Men certainly can have all the positive traits of women that are enumerated above.

                        What I wonder is if men comparied to women (broad generalizations again)
                        -- are as likely to communicate their preferences
                        -- if those preferences aren't heeded, their likelihood to then ask again nicely
                        -- assign blame more quickly for errors
                        -- become angry more often in response to errors (another stressor in an already stressed life)
                        -- feel the sting in the wallet more directly if the experience is not a pleasant one since they pay more often for meals

                        Much seems to depend on the personality of the individual, so there are many exceptions to these broad-stroke generalizations.

                        No answers here, and certainly no intent to insult either gender. A curious sociological phenomenon you cite, silence9, if it is indeed true.

                        Any interest in writing, silence9? Seems like a good magazine story and you already have the makings of a good headline. For more research, contact the National Restaurant Association for some statistical data, or I can help you more with obtaining hard data if you email me.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Hello, and thank you for the encouragement to write! I'll heed your suggestion and ponder on the possibilities you mention...

                        2. "Social lubricants"? I love that--sounds dirty! I think that what makes for good or bad service goes well beyond simple gender generalizations. I would consult with Proust and Bob Dylan on this one, not Fowles and Cyndi Lauper.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bite Me

                            Hey, the alternate title to Proust's celebrated tome was: Remembrance Of Things Passed ( Through My Digestive Tract ) :-). Also, here's what Dylan says to his inattentive waitress when she takes his order back to the kitchen: " Your gonna make me lonesome when you go.." ;-)

                          2. fascinating observation and thread.

                            Speaking personally, I had to learn not to rip off the heads of those around me from my husband and now have great service pretty uniformly from servers of either gender.

                            Another idea to throw out though -- is more about board dynamics. Speaking verrrry broadly, women are less comfortable around dissenting opinions. So a post that slams a resto they like is more likely to be felt as a personal affront and responded to as such. Whereas, again, speaking broadly, men seem more likely to get a certain joy out of finding something everyone else likes and slamming it. (gosh, could that be any more generalizing?)

                            1. I almost always get great service...friends and family are amazed and my reasoning is simple. I make the effort to be a good customer. I am friendly but not inappropriate. I treat the staff with respect and appreciation. I ask them how their day is going, etc. If I have a special request, I am extra appreciative. I smile. I am approachable and I tip well. I have a friend who quite frankly is a pain in the ass as a customer, never pleased and a poor tipper and she constantly complains about the poor service she receives and I am surprised she gets any service at all.

                              1. II have never really read the LA board but how much does server perception verses diner perception figure into the equation.

                                I very seldom have outright bad service. However (you knew that was coming right?), assuming I am not a regular, when I dine alone (I am a middle aged woman), I don’t get service that is quite as good as when I am dining with others. Unless the server is young enough or good looking enough to think that flirting with the middle age woman is the best way to up the tip. I have always thought it was the perception that middle-aged women don’t tip as well. Of course, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the server.

                                If men don’t have this dining alone experience, maybe what I see as not great they see as less than acceptable?

                                Then again I don’t eat in the LA area and my experiences may not relate those in your area.