Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gender Roles at Fancy Schmancy Restaurants

The New York Times had an article yesterday about gender roles in upscale dining. This article is interesting to me, as someone who’s relatively new to upscale restaurants. Until recently it never really occurred to me to go out to fancy restaurants, partially because I could never afford them, and partially because I grew up in a small town where there just weren’t upscale restaurants available.

So it wasn’t until last weekend, when I was out to dinner with a group of mixed gender and age at an upscale restaurant, that I really noticed the hierarchy in service at such establishments.

Because the way we sat down had the women sitting roughly in the middle of a long table with some men on either side, it became very awkward when the server took orders from women first, then went around each end of the table to take the men’s orders, especially creating problems when some of us weren’t ready to order.

The problem with some very traditional upscale restaurant manners is that they assume things about men and women that may not be true. Another example the article gave is that waiters tend to always consult men on ordering wine, when the woman may be more knowledgeable about the selection. There is, of course, no way for the waiter to know the internal workings of any social group, so it seems to me to pull the emphasis off of assumptions about gender, and ask the entire table about a wine selection and see who might be interested in taking charge. What if a group of colleagues was out with their female boss? Wouldn’t it be insulting to consult a man on a wine selection instead of his superior?

In addition, it seems that the wait staffs add some stereotypes of their own. The article noted that, “A table composed entirely of women may receive the most unequal treatment of all, because some servers may see it as a less profitable opportunity.” Apparently because women tend to order less, the total and therefore the tip also ends up being less. They also note that women “stick around” longer than men do and hold tables. I doubt that this is always true and find it infuriating that wait staff assume women are less worthy customers based on a few observations they’ve made.

Isn’t the point of paying top dollar at a fancy restaurant to have an excellent experience? Creating elaborate stereotypes about women and men that result in women getting treated as “second-class citizens” isn’t worth the price to me. I hope to see these gender stereotypes fall out of fashion soon (as the Times article notes, some restaurants in the Village are starting to buck them). In the meantime I might enjoy some downscale restaurants where you order when you’re ready, the food comes when it’s hot, and the prices are friendlier to my nonprofit salary.

Cross posted at Pushback.

1 comment:

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