Shoddy Treatment Is the Tip of the Eating out Iceberg; Gail Appleson on a Report Which Reveals That American Women Are Getting Second-Rate Service in Restaurants

By Appleson, Gail | The Birmingham Post (England), January 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Shoddy Treatment Is the Tip of the Eating out Iceberg; Gail Appleson on a Report Which Reveals That American Women Are Getting Second-Rate Service in Restaurants


Appleson, Gail, The Birmingham Post (England)


Afemale executive who has risen through the ranks of corporate America may have an impressive title and a six-figure salary, but the trappings of success are irrelevant the minute she enters a restaurant or liquor store.

Indeed, even with a Harvard degree and a much more visible Armani suit and Coach briefcase, a woman may seem invisible to a waiter or salesman who has a male customer in sight.

"Almost every woman I've talked to has a story," said Tim Zagat, co-publisher of Zagat restaurant surveys. Information compiled for the new 2000 edition of the Zagat Survey of America's Top Restaurants showed that 83 per cent of respondents felt that men are treated better than women when eating out.

The survey is based on questionnaires answered by about 100,000 respondents throughout last year and 1998 and compiled in Zagat guides for individual cities. The America's Top Restaurants guide describes 1,130 leading restaurants in 38 cities and provides ratings for food, decor, service and cost.

In revealing the results, Zagat said 90 per cent of respondents in the San Francisco area felt that men were treated better; in New York it was 80 per cent.

"This suggests that, when dining in mixed company, men are targeted as primary cheque payers by restaurant staff, who lavish better service their way," Zagat said. When men and women dine together, he said, men are usually given the wine list and asked to choose and taste the wine, regardless of the expertise of the women at the table.

Women diners also say they are treated like second-class citizens when they dine alone or with other women and they often get inferior tables and service, Zagat said.

JoEllen Zacks, a media relations manager for the American Bar Association in Chicago, agreed, saying restaurants often try to seat her in the back when she dines alone while on the road. "I ask to be moved; I'm not shy about it," she said.

Zacks said women may also receive inferior service because of a perception that they do not tip as well as men. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don't get treated well, so we tip accordingly," she said.

Zagat said some French, Italian and Spanish restaurants and steakhouses also discriminate against women by refusing to let them work as servers, who can earn lucrative tips. This is true most often in New York and other North-eastern metropolitan areas where some restaurants still "look to Europe" he said.

Industry experts say the no-women wait staff policy remains standard in many elegant restaurants, where tuxedo-clad waiters are considered part of the prestige of upscale dining.

"There is some blatant discrimination going on and people seem oblivious to it," Zagat said. "As you go further west, restaurants are more inclined to hire women."

The practice has generated some litigation. For example, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the Cipriani restaurant family in August for denying women jobs that can generate more than $95,000 annually. …

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