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Oct 8, 2008 04:09 AM

Gender differences in the Restaurant

Interesting article in the Times this morning discussing both the ways different restaurants seek to appeal to men and/or women and how men and women are sometimes treated differently in restaurants.


To get the conversation started, I've ordered for women before and been the "dude" on occasion, typically with women my own age (I'm in my mid twenties), younger or much older. I learned pretty quickly that women in their 30's and 40's don't appreciate this much. It seems like something of a mindfield navigating amongst the confluence of etiquette, some benign and cute, if anachronistic, patriarchy, and some wounded pride across the table. I pity the server having to do that more or less blindly.

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  1. Edited to remove most of my theorising on Feminism, the Postfeminist impulse to render Feminist issues marginal (issue of cute offence, or wounded pride) and irrelevant (patriarchy is anachronistic and no longer an issue in politics or economics today), and the micropolitics of everyday activity. This article was useful for its demonstration of continuing gender imbalance and heartening for the recognition and effort to change shown by servers and restaurant workers.

    I removed much of what I said for fear that my remarks will simply be dismissed as one of those cranky ladies in their 30s who overreact to benign and cute actions. Don't I know that equality has been achieved and I can just shut up now?

    That said, I don't think the article showed such a horrifying minefield. If someone wants to be ordered for, they will be ordered for regrdless of the server's efforts. (Family dynamics are a far more nightmarish scenario as far as I can tell.) Remembering to bring the wine to the woman who ordered it should not be so drastically difficult (well done for the sommelier at Parker House!). And perhaps not providing gender specific amuse bouche is also desirable. (Seriously, if there's a rib somewhere in there, I'll want to put it in my belly. Ask me, not my genitalia.)

    I think it's presumption that should be removed, and it is present-day presumption that is sometimes governed by archaic, yet still all too active social structures.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Lizard

      "Ask me, not my genitalia" - Hilarious!

      I too would be pretty ticked off if my male companion got ribs and I was stuck with cucumber soup. I completely agree that the situations presented in the article don't seem to be overwhelmingly difficult to address. If the dynamics of the party are such that women order first, then the women will order first. If not, then whoever speaks first orders first. If the woman orders the wine, then serve her the wine. No big deal.

      1. re: Lizard

        Just wanted to say that I'm so glad to hear this from someone in her 30s. I thought it was all being lost on women in their 30s. Maybe it's lost on women in their 20s.

        As for the gender-different treatment, this sounds so arcane. I haven't experienced those old differences in a long long time. It's so wrong that it still happens.

        1. re: slacker

          Thanks to the two of you so far. I was really scared to write what I did, in full expectation of the usual dismissal of hysterical assumptions. Your comments remind me there is a chowhound community open to such observations.

          And slacker, if it's any comfort, as I teach at the Uni level, I've been finding 20-something men and women who are sensitive to such issues, It's a delight, surprising, but edifying, of course.

          1. re: Lizard

            My intent was not to post this and make anyone feel bad, and frankly, though rereading my original comments clearly don't indicate this, I was more intrigued by the different atmospheres some restaurants would cultivate to appeal to different genders (or both together). And, to Lizard in particular, I really do get it, and am not out to implicate anyone as cranky, and I don't mean at all to say that you must realize that "gender equality has been achieved [so] shut up now". I do think an apology is in order, and I am sorry. (If you still have what you wrote before, I'm sailormouth@hotmail.com) Sometimes dinner is dinner and sometimes it's not, that's all I'm saying.

            That said. . .

            One of my favourite stories is that one time my former boss (woman, mid-30's) took me out to lunch at an ethnic restaurant and shared a two-person dish served in a pot on a burner at the table, plus a few appetizers. The proprietor, also the waitress, always offered to give me seconds first every time, and it was really clear after about twenty minutes that we'd stepped into some 1950's twilight zone. At the end of the meal, the waitress gives my boss instructions on how to reheat the leftovers properly for me (at this point both our jaws have hit the table) and she hands me the check. We split it, neither of us ever went back, and I demurred (did have to hold myself back though!!!) from asking her to reheat the leftovers for me at the office.

            I'm a gay guy in a big city and am acutely aware of this type of thing, and it can be a fine line between fun and inappropriate. Carelessness, like handing the credit card to a man when it was given by a woman, is as foolish as giving the check to a different table.

            I should say most higher end restaurants I've been to are quite good about it (how about dealing with two men, same age, on a date, for a challenge), but sometimes a look of panic might cross a server's face and hopefully someone sitting at the table will give a cue. JoanN's post below, while it seems scarcely believable now (I imagine that type of thing happened before my time), and I hope a little bit funny many years and other progresses on, must've been humiliating at the time.

            [smiles sardonicly and lights up a Virginia Slim, we've all come a long way, baby].

            1. re: sailormouth

              Thanks, Sailormouth. wasn't looking for an apology at all, and I find this thoughtful post really nice to read as well. I also agree that things have gotten better and that is nice to see.

      2. I have few requirements: I don't want a menu without prices; I don't want a "feminine" amuse; all I care about is getting the right order, done to my request. I don't care about the order in which my tablemates are served. I'm a grownup; if I want my male companion to order for me, I can ask him to do it. Just let the food be good, the company amusing, and the service cheerful.

        1. Who gets the check, the man or the woman?

          8 Replies
          1. re: Chinon00

            1. The person who asks for it.
            2. The server leaves it, and this is addressed by those involved, In my dating experience, the best encounters have been in which one person takes it and says (or allows the other person to say) that it can be gotten the next time. Seriously? Sooooooo not an issue, and if anything a great way to know how things are going. we're still working on next times, right? And if someone is taking advantage (either gender) the loss is worth the knowledge.

            I really hope that you are joking here, Chinon. Because this kind of question is pretending something huge exists where it doesn't. It's amazing what a person can learn in actual interaction with the other person.

            1. re: Lizard

              "In my dating experience, the best encounters have been in which one person takes it and says (or allows the other person to say) that it can be gotten the next time."

              That line only works for the woman. If the man suggested to a woman that she could pick up the check next time there probably wouldn't be a "next time".

              1. re: Chinon00

                Sorry, but I don't want a guy who will pay for me every time. I prefer to switch off and have no problem with a guy who says I can pay the next time. It seems like Lizard, another woman in her 30s, is the same way. I imagine that's becoming even more the case with women in their 20s.

                1. re: queencru

                  I'm not suggesting that a guy pays every time. I just don't believe that it is proper for a man to suggest a second date by offering the woman the opportunity to pay the bill the next time.
                  Either gender should be flattered though when the other picks up the tab.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    I think being aware of your comfort zone is an important thing. Dating is hard enough as is. But, bear in mind that thinking this way leads us into actual interpersonal exchange about these understandings and practices; we don't need to rely on gender identity to sort this out for us.

                    1. re: Lizard

                      I agree completely. I have dated a few guys whose ideas fell totally out of my comfort zone (e.g. refusing to let me pay for a date ever with a guy who never had any money to pay for anything, and a guy who always split the bill down the middle regardless of what each of us ordered) and obviously they did not last. If people's comfort zones don't fit, you might not really match as a couple.

            2. re: Chinon00

              My husband gets the check about 95% of the time, even if I ask for it. My personal peeve is that I usually put the check on my credit card (clearly in my name) and they majority of the time the server still gives my husband the credit card receipt.

              1. re: AmblerGirl

                This happens to me all the time as well, as does my meal often being proffered to my husband first (we joke that I eat the man food, steak and whatnot).

            3. I recall being asked, when women first began wearing pantsuits, to please remove my pants. Women wearing pants weren’t allowed in the restaurant. Luckily, the tunic tops were long and mini-skirts were in. So there I was, showing acres of leg, which was entirely acceptable, but pants weren’t.

              I recall hosting a business party at a Laguna Beach restaurant. It was business. I was paying for it. They refused to give me the menu with the prices on it.

              We’ve come a long way, baby!

              Maybe not quite far enough, but every inch counts.

              2 Replies
              1. re: JoanN

                Too funny- I, too, remember places where pantsuits were not permitted- also rememebr some business clubs where woman were not allowed! Eons ago, I worked in Internationa Sales, and was one of about 3 women- at our sales conferences, we were always told we had to wear suit and tie to certain dinners. Used to aggravate me they did not just specify suit- so I went out and bought a mans styled pantsuit, paired it with matching suspenders, a white dress shirt and donned a tie. My own little protest, but made me feel better. And you are right- we've come a long way!

                1. re: JoanN

                  There was a time when women were not allowed in the dining room at one famous Boston Restaurant. There were private dining rooms for groups that included women. Now it has a woman chef's name attached to it.