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From Ordering To Paying, Have You Noticed This Sexist Behaviour In Indian Restaurants?

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Growing up in a middle-class family, eating out at a restaurant (especially a fancy one) was a luxury; and hence, immensely fascinating. Whether I went with parents or friends, it was always something thrilling—because it symbolized breaking out of the ordinary. But now, as an adult who eats out a lot, I have realized how terrifyingly patriarchal a space the Indian restaurant is.

Enforcing Gender At The Dining Table

As I look back to all the times I dined with my family in restaurants as a kid, I can’t help but think of how my father called all the shots—whether it was being in charge of ordering, or paying. I remember how, despite my mother reaching for her purse when the bill arrived, the waiter had always addressed my father. It was such a subtle way to discredit her significance (both economically and otherwise) that at that time, even she didn’t realize; thinking that it was ‘natural’ for my father to pay.

Whose Bill Is It Anyway?

Today, I often find myself in similar situations. When I’m out with a male friend, he is always the focus of the staff’s attentions. He’s the first person to be handed a menu, the one the waiter looks to for the order, the person the waiter asks whether or not we are enjoying the food (notice how he’s expected to answer for my dining experience as well), and finally, the person who is handed the bill. There have been times when a male friend has been put on the spot, not having enough money on him to pay for the meal but still expected to do so because the waiter is standing there, looking at him expectantly. On more than one hilarious occasion, male friends have been handed the bill when the meal was supposed to have been my treat!

Shaken, Not Stirred, By Double Standards

Whether it be a friend, or my own father, the restaurant staff almost always assumes that I’m either inferior to or less capable than or dependent on the man I’m dining with. It gets worse when there’s alcohol involved. Often, while ordering drinks along with a male friend, a ‘milder’ drink has been suggested to me instead of the stronger stuff, because of course women are ‘too delicate’ for hard liquor.

The age-old patriarchal bias that haunted my mother haunts me now. And something as commonplace as going to a restaurant and dining with your friend becomes tinged with unequal gender politics.

Going Solo? Apparently A No-No

But nothing comes close to the stigma behind a woman dining alone. I’ve been frequently eating alone in restaurants this past year—and my experiences with the restaurant staff have ranged from amusing to downright exasperating. Here’s the example of an interaction that has actually happened more than once:

Me (on entering restaurant or cafe): Table for one please?
Waiter (pausing to size me up): Are you sure about that, ma’am?

Indeed, they are often baffled when a solitary woman enters their establishment, and proceeds to order a meal and eat it by herself. Once they do reluctantly seat me at my table, they continue to stare at me in trepidation (sometimes openly, sometimes surreptitiously) the entire time I’m having my meal. There have been times when they have been way too quick to clear my plates even though I barely finished eating in a not-so-subtle gesture of ‘we’re done with you’. Ordering alcohol on your own is again a veritably minefield -one time they openly directed me to their mocktail menu when I had clearly asked for cocktails. Even though I haven’t faced a situation where the staff has been openly rude, I can almost always sense their discomfort or condescension.

I have never seen the same kind of treatment being meted out to male customers who dine solo. It’s as if the staff see them as something ‘normal’, but when it comes to women —we’re an anomaly.

This is part of the same culture where women still face trouble occupying public spaces on their own terms because of the aeons of patriarchal stigma which has forbidden us from doing so. And when we do, we are faced with harassment, discrimination or (like in my case) quiet derision.

While more and more restaurants come up in India and claim to be female-friendly by offering ‘Ladies Nights’ and other free services to women (which are not so female-friendly after all because they’re essentially luring male customers using female customers), the truth is that they still operate with patriarchal beliefs that have no place in a domain that should essentially be meant for indulging or enjoying oneself.

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  1. priteesh babu

    This is the best example for pessimism.Most of the times girl make boys pay the bill and majority of the girls do that.This may be the reason they handedover bill to male.stop looking negative side in everything.I guess you want to become famous by this kind of articles at this point of time when there are assaults on women in our country.Grow up,be optimistic,think from every direction before you(male or female who thinks like this) judge something

    1. Anushka Nischal

      Sir times have changed and still these things happen and most girls want to pay the bill but and not allowed to do so no one is there to be famous truth is truth and what about the situation that women are not allowed to earn by their better half’s? You are a typical example of a person who thinks male is better than female

  2. Shubham Kulshreshtha

    The writer is too much depressed…needs rehabilitation.

  3. Gourab Kar

    I think you are restlessly trying to fit a square in a circle. What you are talking about is not patriarchy but a by product of chivalry. Men pull the door open for women, men pull the chair for women, men asked women for their choice of food and ordered, and men even paid the bill.

    This is a behaviour that didn’t happen last night but for millenniums. That is how chivalry and courtesy were defined. Just because now the society wants to change, be it for for good or bad, doesn’t mean you catch hold of those not following, by the collar.

    Plus this mentally of women still exists. I’ve seen countless times even last night that women ask the men to ask for water, call the waiter, ask for something else, etc.

    Last valentine’s day when I was with my valentine and she wanted to pay, she had to enter the pin at the counter. The male waiter had politely asked me with a smile – “Sir, may I borrow her for a minute please if that’s okay”. This is not patriarchy, it’s chivalry.

    Stop this game of self victimization for petty things and face the real world with real human dynamics. Few people I know, when they learn a new word, they want to use the word in every dimension of life putting it as a filter on their eyes.

    1. Baisakhi Chatterjee

      It’s fucking patriarchy. Asking a man whether they can “borrow” the woman is assumption the woman belongs to them. That is ownership. Last I checked, chivalry was a code of conduct among knights. So unless you are jousting and hacking off heads with your swords for realm and region, keep your bullshit to yourself

  4. Oyindrila Basu

    I find the author is a Bengali girl, and I am a Bengali too, born and grown up in Kolkata; though that doesn’t make a difference, but I cite it, as because I think the food experiences could be at similar places for both of us, if Rohini is from Kolkata too. I do not quiet agree with everything said above. Since my college days, I have been dining at restaurants with my gang of girls, and I have always found myself dominating and powerful, even if a male friend was with us, for a matter of chance. Then I often went dining with my mother, and have got equal importance. In case of asking, how the food is, (in places like Zest, Bar-B-Q, Flurry’s etc.) the waiters have often turned towards me or my mom, for quality check than my father, even though he is with us. In fact, there is a wonderful restaurant in Saltlake, which we often visited on occasions (me and my family), but now I am in US, so my parents visit it sometimes; but I was glad to hear the last day, that the head server often remembers me, and inquires, why I had stopped visiting their place; I mean we meet so many people everyday, how many of them remembers you? That’s quite a respect. At one of the popular Bengali dining places at Gariahat, I remember the manager coming up to me and personally asking me how the food and the rice pudding was, even though I was quite young at that time (of course my father was with us). In family dinners, I remember myself and my mother, giving the orders most of the times, than my father, or we did it for our individual selves. Same when I am with my husband, who was also my boy friend, and sometimes he ordered food, sometimes I did, but he preferred that I do it. In case of payment, the waiter generally leaves the bill on the table rather than handing it over to someone specific. and I have always payed my share by splitting the bill. I think it is a matter of perspective; and it is all about how you are taking command of a situation; even if such a discrimination is happening at certain places, there are ways you can voice your opinion directly on face.

  5. Sangeeta LifeisaVacation

    This is so not true and a very exaggerated opinion. I blog on food and regularly dine solo from street side to 5 star restaurants in large cities to small town India and have been on most occasions taken care of with utmost courtesy. I still remember the roadside places in Kochi and Amritsar where the cart owner seeing my tired face, found a stone at a distance for me to rest while taking care of other customers and food. I have been often asked to share a table with another solo diner or a willing couple and I perfectly appreciate that since small places cannot have empty spaces at peak time. The bill is often given to the person who asks for it or to the one who reaches out for it.

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